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Managing Heartburn

Q: Lately I've been suffering from pretty regular heartburn, but my doctor says it's not severe enough to put me on a prescription medication. I've been downing a lot of liquid antacids after dinner to help ease the pain and sleep better at night. It worked for a while, but now I'm noticing the heartburn comes back much more quickly and sometimes it doesn't go away at all. What's going on?

Dr. Donnica: Heartburn is the most common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux or acid reflux (also known as "acid indigestion" or in more serious cases gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD). Heartburn is very common. It affects nearly 25 million Americans daily!

Heartburn usually occurs after meals, but it may also occur with stress or at night. While some physicians view heartburn simply as a "nuisance" condition that is often easily treated with over the counter (OTC) medications, chronic gastroesophageal reflux may lead to serious problems including erosive esophagitis, Barrett's esophagus (a pre-cancerous condition), or ultimately, esophageal cancer. There are several different OTC medications you can try, two of which were formerly available by prescription only: Pepcid AC (famotidine) and Tagamet HB 200 (cimetidine). For a complete list of your choices, go to DrugStore.com and type "heartburn" into the search box.

Other helpful tips include not lying down for 3 hrs after eating; avoiding foods, drinks or medicines that aggravate heartburn, such as fried or fatty foods, chocolate, coffee, sodas, citrus fruits, tomato products and alcohol; eating smaller portions at mealtimes; wearing loose fitting clothing; maintaining a normal body weight; and not smoking. If trying another OTC medication and lifestyle changes don't eliminate your heartburn, it's time to go back to your doctor and make it very clear how disruptive this is to your life. There are now several very effective prescription medicines that may also help.

Created: 10/19/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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