Treatment for gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) aim to:
- relieve symptoms
- reduce the risk of complications
- improve quality of life
- heal any ulcers in the oesophagus.
They are usually rolled-out on a step-by-step basis starting with lifestyle changes.
You can make some lifestyle changes to help manage your GORD symptoms. They include:
- eating a low fat diet
- losing weight, if appropriate (so that you achieve a healthy weight)
- limiting the amount of coffee, alcohol, chocolate and other caffeine containing foods and drinks you have each day
- stopping smoking, because tobacco smoke can irritate your digestive system and make your symptoms worse
- eating smaller, more frequent meals instead of three large meals each day
- avoiding ‘trigger’ foods or drinks which may make your symptoms worse such as coffee, alcohol, chocolate or tomatoes
- eating your evening meal three to four hours before you go to bed
- raising the head of your bed if your symptoms are worse at night
- asking your doctor or pharmacist to review your medicines to make sure they are not making your symptoms worse.
If lifestyle changes alone fail to control symptoms, you may need to take medicines. The most common medicines for GORD are antacids, histamine (H2) antagonists and proton pump inhibitors.
Antacids neutralise the effects of stomach acid. They shouldn’t be taken at the same time as other medicines because they can stop them from being properly absorbed into your body. They can also damage the special coating on some types of tablets. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice about how to take them.
H2 antagonists block the effects of the chemical histamine on certain cells in the stomach. As a result, these cells produce less stomach acid.
Proton pump inhibitors
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) reduce the amount of acid the stomach makes. This allows the oesophagus to heal and also relieves the symptoms of heartburn and reflux. PPIs don’t stop you digesting food normally.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners recommends that you discuss any medication you are taking for GORD or heartburn with your doctor or specialist to assess the possibility of reducing your dose or stopping the medication if safe to do so. PPIs should not be taken long term when not needed, because of the cost and possible side effects. For further information, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.
Visit the NPS MedicineWise website for information on medicines for GORD, or call 300 633 424.
Surgery is only required for a small percentage of people with severe symptoms, or whose symptoms are not relieved adequately with medications, or who don’t want to take long-term medicines. It is performed through a ‘key-hole’ approach called laparoscopy.
Last reviewed: November 2016