So what is the best treatment for reflux symptoms?
Gastro-oesophageal-reflux disease (GORD or GERD) is one of the commonest diseases affecting adults in the West. Because the severity of the condition varies from being just an occasional nuisance for some people while others are quite seriously troubled, so the intensity of treatment varies from one individual to another. There may well be changes in your lifestyle that you can make to help. There are also medicines – either bought over the counter or prescribed by your doctor – that can help your symptoms. There is no simple “cure”.
How can I help myself?
Your symptoms are likely to lessen if you take measures to reduce the amount of reflux that you have. It is a bad idea to eat large, rich meals – especially late in the evening. Eat little but more often if necessary. If you are carrying extra pounds, losing weight is usually very helpful. If you indulge, cut down on alcohol and stop smoking. Do eat early enough in the evening so as to avoid going to bed with a full stomach. It may help to prop up the head of the bed. Try to avoid bending forward or wearing tight clothes as this can put extra pressure on your tummy. There are a variety of useful medicines that you can buy. Many contain antacids which neutralize the acid in your stomach. Ask your pharmacist for advice about medicines that help reflux symptoms.
How can the doctor help?
If your symptoms are mild, they may suggest you follow the above advice. If this does not work or your symptoms are more troublesome, they will probably prescribe a medicine for you. Ideally, they would choose to prescribe a drug that prevented you from having reflux in the first place – but there are no medicines that do that effectively. Fortunately there is a wide choice of drugs that cut down the amount of acid that gets to your oesophagus. These vary in their power so the doctor will try to choose the one that is best for you. The good news is that, for nearly everyone, there is a drug that is both very safe and really effective.
Will I need treatment forever?
Many people find their symptoms improve greatly if they change their lifestyle to reduce reflux. Others may need to take medicines from time to time if their symptoms return. Some just cannot manage without taking drug treatment most of the time. It is very reassuring that taking medicines for reflux in the long term is extremely safe. There are a small number of people for whom drug treatment is not suitable for one reason or another. In such cases, surgery is definitely an option.
Can I have an operation for my condition?
Yes, an operation exists which is nowadays carried out by “keyhole” (laparoscopic) techniques, meaning that patients only usually stay in hospital for 1 or 2 nights and are usually back to work within 2 weeks. It requires a general anaesthetic and may therefore carry a small risk. It can cause side effects such as difficulty swallowing or bloating and wind. It interferes with the ability to belch and vomit. It controls reflux in more than 9 out of 10 patients but after 5-10 years the condition may recur in 2-3 out of every 10 who have undergone the surgery. For these reasons it is not right for everyone with reflux.