It is estimated that more than 60 million Americans suffer from heartburn at least once a month. Heartburn can affect anyone, and at any age.
GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), acid reflux, “back wash,” is caused by the abnormal relaxation or weakened valve between the stomach and esophagus (food tube).
As a result, stomach digestive acid leaks up into the esophagus causing irritation, inflammation and characteristic symptoms such as burning behind the breast bone and acidic or sour taste in the mouth. It can even cause difficulty swallowing, a sensation of a lump in the throat, sore throat, hoarseness and a chronic cough (lasting longer than six weeks).Home treatments for heartburn are varied and vast. First, lifestyle changes can certainly help. Eat smaller meals. Avoid wearing tight-fitting cloths. Do not smoke. Maintain your ideal weight. Avoid eating within three to four hours of bedtime. And, avoid foods that can aggravate symptoms, such as: fried or spicy foods, onions, garlic, mints and chocolate. Also avoid alcoholic beverages and those containing caffeine.
Excellent over-the-counter products are available to help treat heartburn. Three categories of products are available: 1. Antacids work by buffering or neutralizing the acid in the stomach. Medication examples are Tums and Rolaids. 2. H2 Blockers help reduce acid production. Examples are Pepcid, Zantac, and Tagament. 3. Acid pumps inhibitors block the acid production. An example is Prilosec.
Words of caution
If you need to use an over-the-counter medication more than twice a week, it is time to see your doctor. Certainly, if you experience severe symptoms such as cough-up blood, stomach or chest pain, see a doctor immediately. Frequent or persistent heartburn can put you at risk for developing an ulcer, significant narrowing of the esophagus (stricture), and even cancer.
Dr. Linda Petter is a weekly feature on KOMO TV/News Radio (1000 AM & 97.7 FM) every Sunday live 7:45 a.m., and for the Auburn Reporter. She trained at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Illinois, Carle Hospital. Dr. Petter is chief of the Department of Family Practice at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way. She is a consumer healthcare advocate, and her books, “Healthcare On a Budget,” and “Common Medical Sense,” are available on Amazon.com. Please visit her website, www.DocForAll.com, or call her office at 253-568-0841.