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Reflux and Swallowing Disorders

Reflux (oesophageal reflux, “acid reflux”) can occur when stomach acid leaks into the oesophagus, causing common problems such as heartburn, coughing and difficulty swallowing. Recurring symptoms of reflux may require medical attention.

What causes reflux

Reflux occurs when gastric content leaves the stomach and moves up to irritate the oesophagus, voice-box or lungs. This is not something that is supposed to happen frequently in healthy people, and it occurs only when the pressure inside the stomach becomes greater than the pressure keeping the lower oesophagus closed.

The four main causes of reflux are:

  1. Hiatus hernia
  2. Weak lower oesophageal sphincter (valve)
  3. Oesophageal Sensitivity
  4. Gastroparesis (paralysed stomach)

Symptoms of reflux

The term “reflux” is used to describe a group of symptoms caused when acid or other gastric content leaves the stomach and moves up the oesophagus, it is not an actual symptom itself. When someone says they have “reflux” we ask them specific details about their symptoms to get a better idea of what they are experiencing, as many patients labelled as having reflux disease have other conditions. The symptoms that people with reflux experience can include:

  • Heartburn – this word is used to describe pain felt behind the lower breastbone that feels as if it has a “chemical” or “burning” component.
  • Regurgitation – when fluid runs backwards up the oesophagus it can cause a number of symptoms that all can be grouped together and described with this word.
  • Epigastric pain – patients often struggle to describe this symptom. When pain occurs at the point where the breast-bone meets the abdomen is often hard to figure out where it is exactly.
  • Chest pain – this pain is often associated with a feeling of food getting stuck, chest tightness and pain in the jaw, back, or left arm.
  • Cough – repetitive coughing can be a symptom of reflux when acid or other toxic chemicals escape out of the stomach and irritate the larynx (voice box).
  • Asthma/breathlessness – some patients get asthma-like symptoms from reflux into their lungs, larynx or upper oesophagus.
  • Belching/gas trapping – belching, or discomfort relieved by belching is a common but not terribly specific symptom of many oesophageal and gastric disorders.
  • Bitter taste – some patients with reflux-like symptoms complain of a bitter taste in the back of their throat and in their mouth.

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Swallowing Disorders

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