Oesophageal reflux - also called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) - is a common cause of symptoms of upper tummy (abdominal) pain and chest pain. It is caused by acid from the stomach leaking up into the gullet (oesophagus).
Some foods are more likely to trigger reflux symptoms and it may help to look at how you eat as well as what you eat.
What is oesophageal reflux?
Oesophageal reflux is also known as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). It most commonly causes a burning pain in the chest which comes on after eating. You may also have a pain in the upper part of your tummy (abdomen) or a sensation of acid coming up into your gullet (oesophagus).
What are the symptoms of oesophageal reflux?
The symptoms can be caused by several different factors in the body.
- The stomach may be producing too much acid. This can happen if you are feeling stressed.
- The muscle ring (sphincter) at the bottom of the gullet (oesophagus) may be too relaxed and open, allowing food and acid to reflux upwards. Alcohol and smoking both relax the sphincter.
- In people with a hiatus hernia, stomach contents can reflux easily into the oesophagus
- The stomach may be slow to empty after eating. This is more likely if you eat a fatty meal.
- Something may be increasing the pressure in the tummy (abdomen), forcing stomach contents upwards. Factors which increase the pressure include tight clothing, obesity, pregnancy and coughing.
Which foods and other factors are likely to trigger oesophageal reflux?
It is helpful to try to identify whether there are any particular foods which trigger your reflux. It might be a good idea to keep a food diary for at least a week, recording what you eat and what symptoms you have.
There is quite a big list of foods which are said to cause reflux symptoms. However, they may not all apply to you. For some people, reflux may not be triggered by particular foods at all but by other factors. Sometimes the trigger may be a combination of foods and other factors.
There are lots of factors around eating which can make these symptoms worse:
- Eating late at night. If possible, don't eat a large meal within three hours of going to bed.
- Eating just before you exercise.
- Eating large meals.
- Eating quickly.
- Obesity. Even a moderate weight loss may help to reduce symptoms.
- Having a lot of fluid to drink with a meal.
There are some foods which individual people find make reflux worse. Your food triggers may be different but these foods have all been suggested as reflux triggers:
- Citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons.
- Fizzy drinks.
- Spicy foods.
- Processed meats - for example, salami, bacon.
- Fatty foods: many people find that eating fatty foods increases their symptoms of reflux. However, recent medical research does not back up this recommendation.
What can I do to manage my oesophageal reflux symptoms?
It might be a good idea to cut all of the suggested foods out of your diet for a week or two to see if your symptoms disappear. If they do disappear then you could add these foods back into your diet one at a time to see if they are what is causing your reflux.
If your symptoms come back, perhaps because of other factors as listed above, you may need to cut out potential triggers again until the symptoms have settled down.
In general, a healthy diet is associated with a lower risk of reflux symptoms. In particular:
- A high-fibre diet is likely to reduce symptoms of reflux.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables, especially raw fruits and leafy green vegetables.
- Non-acidic fruit like melons and bananas may be better than more acidic fruits such as oranges.
- 'Good' bacteria (probiotics), such as those found in yoghurt.
Dr Jan Sambrook
Dr Jan Sambrook
Dr Hayley Willacy