Reflux, medically known as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), occurs when the stomach contents escapes from the stomach and leaks up into the oesophagus. It is also commonly known as heartburn as it can feel like a burning sensation in the sternum (breast bone). Other symptoms that can occur from the irritation in the throat and oesophagus can be nausea, a bitter taste in the mouth, hoarse voice, frequent throat clearing, exacerbation of asthma and erosion of dental enamel.
The cause of the condition is not the excess of stomach acid, although it may feel that way, but a weakness in the lower oesophageal sphincter, the band of muscle that is normally supposed to act as a valve to prevent stomach contents travelling back up the oesophagus.
Many women experience reflux during pregnancy. This is due in part to the hormones that relax smooth muscle (in this case the oesophageal sphincter) and also later in the pregnancy due to the upward pressure from the baby on the stomach. Other common exacerbating factors include smoking, obesity, large meals, bending, straining or lying down too soon after eating, alcohol consumption, and certain medications.
There are some simple lifestyle changes that you implement to help manage the symptoms. There are several foods that trigger reflux, including alcohol, chocolate, coffee, spicy foods, tomatoes, and citrus fruits. Not all these foods will cause symptoms, however become acquainted with your specific triggers and avoid them.
Other measures include eating smaller meals, stopping smoking if you smoke, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, minimising alcohol, not lying down for a few hours after eating and sleeping on your left side (so the stomach is below the oesophagus).
Peppermint (such as in Lifestream Biogenic Aloe Mint and Olive Leaf Australia Olive Leaf Extract Peppermint) is usually great for any digestive disorder. However, you should bear in mind that for some people, peppermint can relax the oesophageal sphincter and trigger reflux.
Other medications may be effective such as proton-pump inhibitors (Pariet, Losec and Somac), H2 blockers (Zantac) or antacids (Gaviscon or Mylanta). Your doctor may also recommend seeing a gastroenterologist to have an endoscopy, where a thin flexible microscope is passed down the oesophagus into the stomach and beyond to inspect the mucosal lining for any abnormalities such as strictures or ulceration.