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GORD is one of the most common digestive problems in older people

It starts slowly doesn’t it…a slight bout of indigestion after a big meal; an unexpected wakening in the night after an alcoholic evening.

But annoyingly as we age, at some point we are likely to realize that our digestion and metabolism aren’t quite what they were.

Digestive problems are incredibly common in the over 50s, with around 40% having at least one or more age-related digestive symptom each year. For many people, and certainly for people as they reach their 60s and 70s, digestive problems become a regular occurrence.

One of the more common digestive conditions is GORD, or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. This is when acid from the stomach leaks out and rises up into the oesophagus, or gullet; the long tube that connects our mouth to our stomach.

The main symptom of GORD is what is generally recognized as heartburn; discomfort or a burning type of low or high chest pain that comes on after we have eaten. Other more severe symptoms can include tasting acid in your mouth and pain and difficulty when swallowing.

GORD can be worse when you eat certain foods, especially too many fatty foods, of if you drink a lot of alcohol. Coffee or chocolate can relax the muscle at the bottom of the oesophagus and so again worsen the condition.

The reason why people suffer from GORD is often attributed to a problem with the lower muscle at the bottom of the oesophagus, medically named the lower oesophageal sphincter muscle or LOS.  This acts like a valve and opens to let the food you have eaten through into the stomach; then it closes afterwards to stop the resulting acid from leaking up out of the stomach. If this muscle doesn’t close properly, then acid can escape.

Unfortunately we have no control over this muscle and can’t flex it at will or train it, but if you think you may be suffering from problems here, then there is still a lot that can be done.

When the problems first occur, most people turn to everyday indigestion tablets. Normal antacids can sometimes be enough to control the condition but if you are taking them regularly, it is important you speak to your pharmacist or doctor as longterm use can cause other problems.  Indigestion can also be a symptom of other problems including more severe conditions.

So, rather than self treat, it is best to visit your doctor and obtain a proper diagnosis.

GORD can sometimes easily be diagnosed but otherwise various tests are available, including having a look at your oesophagus. This is done but lowering an endoscope, a long, thin, flexible tube with a light and a camera at the end (how technology has come on in our lifetime!) so that the doctor can see if there has been any acid damage to your oesophagus.

Once GORD has been confirmed, often an initial suggestion is to change your diet to see if that can alleviate the symptoms.  People are sometimes aware that certain foods trigger the condition, so clearly avoiding these foods is important. The most common foods here include chocolate, peppermint (surprisingly as so many people take this for indigestion); fatty foods, coffee and alcoholic drinks. Sometimes citrus fruits and even tomato products can bring on GORD.

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