Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (or ‘reflux’ as it’s known) affects up to 30% of adults in the UK, and whilst most will be able to manage their symptoms with simple lifestyle changes, up to 1.5 million people suffer significant symptoms despite taking powerful antacid medication.
Reflux is not caused by too much stomach acid, as many people think. It occurs when the stomach contents, including acid, travel back up into the oesophagus. The valve at the lower end of the oesophagus is designed to stop this happening - relaxing when we eat or drink, then tightening up to prevent reflux – and when this fails reflux occurs.
Some people experience heartburn and regurgitation as a result – clear signs to look out for - but others might not realise that their throat or chest symptoms are caused by reflux. Long-term sufferers are also at risk of developing serious health problems including oesophageal cancer.
Reflux is so common but it can be hard to treat, as whilst there are numerous heartburn medications none of these cures the disease. 30% of those taking the most powerful antacid medications available continue to experience symptoms.
Long-term reflux can also cause the development of Barrett’s Oesophagus (a disorder where pre-cancerous cells form in the oesophagus) which can, in some but certainly not all patients, lead to cancer of the oesophagus.
Reflux - what should I look out for?
Reflux can have lots of different signs or symptoms, many of which you wouldn’t necessarily associate with the disease, so it can go undiagnosed for years. If you’re suffering with any of the following it could be a sign of reflux:
- Stomach contents ‘repeating’ (coming back up the oesophagus to the throat or mouth)
- Pain when swallowing
- Post-nasal drip (build up of mucus in the nose and throat)
- Voice disorders
- Chronic cough
Antacid medications are a common method of managing reflux, but many people are becoming unhappy about taking these as new evidence has linked them with long-term problems like bone fractures and gastrointestinal infections. So what are the alternative treatment options?
Bupa Cromwell Hospital’s reflux team diagnoses and treats reflux sufferers, and we offer the innovative LINX reflux management system as a safe, effective alternative to medication. LINX is a quick surgical procedure where a small bracelet of magnetic beads is placed around the failing lower oesophageal valve replicating its function. Clinical evidence shows that LINX is highly effective and has significant advantages over traditional, more invasive surgery. It achieves a permanent cure through a quick, simple procedure, patients can go home on the same day, and this looks set to become the gold standard for reflux sufferers.
If you suffer from reflux and would like to discuss treatment options, contact Bupa Cromwell Hospital on 020 7460 5700.
This article was written by Mr Nicholas Boyle, Consultant General Surgeon at Bupa Cromwell Hospital, and features in Healthetc., Bupa Cromwell Hospital's vibrant and engaging new health and well-being magazine.