Reflux disease

The regurgitation of sour stomach acid into the oesophagus is known as reflux disease (gastrooesophageal reflux, GERD). Chronic reflux disease often causes inflammation of the oesophagus (oesophagitis). Heartburn, acid regurgitation and indigestion are typical symptoms of reflux disease.

Reflux disease is a common problem. It is estimated that up to 30% of adults suffer from it. The cardia is usually closed and no stomach acid flows into the oesophagus. Stomach acid may be regurgitated into the oesophagus for different reasons. Increased pressure in the stomach from eating too much, insufficient closure of the cardia or increase stomach acid production can cause reflux disease.  A hiatal hernia, in which part of the stomach pushes through the diaphragm into the chest, is often also responsible.

Reflux disease typically manifests with heartburn, indigestion, acid reflux or retrosternal pain (behind the sternum). Sometimes the pain is so strong that it mimics a heart attack.  Pain in the chest area, particularly if it is accompanied by sweating, breathing difficulties or dizziness, should be immediately checked by a doctor in every case. The symptoms of reflux disease frequently occur after eating or lying down, and improve after sitting up. Chronic reflux can lead to inflammation of the oesophagus or affect the vocal chords, which manifests in hoarseness. Oesophagus inflammation can in turn contribute to the occurrence of cancer of the oesophagus.

Reflux disease is diagnosed on the basis of the patient's medical history with the characteristic symptoms. A gastroscopy is often also carried out to clarify a hiatal hernia or oesophageal inflammation.

The treatment of reflux disease depends on the cause and the symptoms. Increased stomach acid production can be treated with stomach acid-inhibiting medication. These are primarily used to reduce the symptoms of every form of reflux disease. If a hiatal hernia or insufficient closure of the cardia is responsible for the reflux, surgery can remedy the cause of the reflux disease. Find out more about this in the Reflux surgery section.