that occurs more than once or twice a week may be acid reflux
disease, which can lead to more serious health problems, says
Dr. David Peura.
15, 2003 -- Anyone who’s watched TV lately can’t miss
the many commercials for heartburn medication. It’s a growing
market because more Americans are suffering from heartburn-related
conditions. Still, pills may not be the answer for everyone, and
they’re not the best place to start.
percent to 30 percent of Americans suffer from frequent heartburn.
Heartburn is caused by stomach acid that backs up into the esophagus--the
tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach.
muscle between the stomach and the esophagus -- the lower esophageal
sphincter (LES) -- plays a major role. When working properly, the
LES opens to allow food into the stomach. In some people the LES
becomes weak or doesn't always close properly, allowing stomach
acid to flow back up. This can lead to varying degrees of heartburn
and, in some cases, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
are there more cases of GERD than ever before? “We eat too
fast, we eat too much, and we eat the wrong things,” says
Dr. David Peura, associate chief of UVa’s Division of Gastroenterology
and part of U.Va.’s Digestive
Health Center of Excellence. “We eat high-fat foods that
delay stomach emptying. We inhale our food rather than eat it, and
we often eat large meals at night. All of these things can provoke
AND OTHER RISKS?
reflux of stomach acid can damage the lining of the esophagus, which
isn’t protected against the acid as the stomach is. It also
may lead to hoarseness, chronic cough, asthma, tooth decay and esophagitis--an
inflammation of the esophagus. The chest pain that accompanies heartburn
can feel similar to the most common sign of a heart attack.
GERD can cause serious damage, doctors are beginning to realize
that the threat of it leading to cancer is not as great as they
had thought. “We recognize that while that is a possibility,
it’s far more the exception than the rule,” says Peura.
factors may weaken the LES or increase the amount of acid in the
stomach. These include:
Lying down or bending over after eating.
prevent heartburn, done eat “red light” foods (see photo),
manage your weight and don’t eat anything for three hours
before bed time.
with mild or occasional episodes of heartburn can usually treat
it with over-the-counter antacids such as Tums or Mylanta. These
medications quickly neutralize stomach acids but work only for short
periods of time.
more severe heartburn, H2 blockers such as Tagamet, Pepcid, Axid
and Zantac, which don’t need prescriptions, reduce the amount
of acid the stomach produces and provide relief for up to 12 hours.
Larger doses may require a prescription.
you are using either type of acid reducers regularly for more than
two weeks, you should see a doctor because you may need different
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved one popular
drug that suppresses production of stomach acid, Prilosec, for sale
without a prescription. That means it should be less expensive than
other similar prescription medications. However, Dr. Peura stresses
that Prilosec should not be taken for more than two weeks without
a doctor’s direction.