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Acid reflux

Find out what causes gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) and read about the factors that can increase your risk of developing the condition.

Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) is usually caused by the ring of muscle at the bottom of the oesophagus (gullet) becoming weakened.

Normally, this ring of muscle opens to let food into your stomach and closes to stop stomach acid leaking back up into your oesophagus.

But for people with GORD, stomach acid is able to pass back up into the oesophagus. This causes symptoms of GORD, which can include heartburn and acid reflux.

It's not always clear what causes this ring of muscle to become weakened, but certain things can increase the risk of it happening (see below).

Who's most at risk of GORD?

The following factors may increase your risk of developing GORD:

  • being overweight or obese – this can place increased pressure on your stomach and weaken the muscles at the bottom of the oesophagus
  • eating large amounts of fatty foods – the stomach takes longer to get rid of stomach acid after digesting a fatty meal and the resulting excess acid may leak up into the oesophagus
  • smoking, alcohol, coffee or chocolate – these may relax the muscles at the bottom of the oesophagus
  • pregnancy – temporary changes in hormone levels and increased pressure on your stomach during pregnancy can cause GORD (read more about heartburn in pregnancy)
  • hiatus hernia – when part of your stomach pushes up through your diaphragm (thin sheet of muscle between the chest and tummy)
  • gastroparesis – when the stomach takes longer to get rid of stomach acid, which means excess acid can leak up into the oesophagus
  • certain medicines – some medicines can cause GORD or make the symptoms worse, including calcium-channel blockers (used to treat high blood pressure), nitrates (used to treat angina) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • stress

GORD can sometimes affect several members of the same family and it's been suggested that the genes you inherit from your parents may also affect your chances of developing the condition.


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