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America Asks About Heartburn & GERD

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Heartburn Worry: Serious or Not?

What you need to know about heartburn -- when to worry, when not, what to do.

When Should Someone See a Doctor About Heartburn?

Galier says if you are reaching for antacids more days than not, you should see your doctor.

Eisen considers heartburn "occasional" if it occurs once a week or less. He says it’s time to seek medical help if you have had heartburn more than once a week for six months or longer more and are not getting better.

How Does the Doctor Evaluate Heartburn?

Your doctor may order several different tests and take the following steps to evaluate persistent heartburn that hasn't gone away even after you modify factors such as your diet:

  • Your doctor may ask for an EKG to help rule out heart-related problems.
  • Your doctor will perform an examination to see if you have any abdominal mass or a hiatal hernia. A hiatal hernia occurs when the upper part of the stomach and the LES move above the diaphragm.
  • Your doctor will check your blood pressure.
  • Your doctor will take a careful medical history to see if medications are causing the problem.
  • Your doctor may ask for a gastric emptying study to see how fast food goes out of your stomach or a test to show how well the esophagus and the LES work.
  • Your doctor may refer you for an upper endoscopy. In this test, a flexible tube with a tiny camera helps the doctor assess the esophagus and look for damage or abnormalities.

How Is Heartburn Treated?

If you have uncomplicated heartburn from acid reflux, your doctor may prescribe over-the-counter or prescription medicines. These include common antacids such as Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids, or Tums. Your doctor may also prescribe more powerful medications called proton pump inhibitors, such as Aciphex, Nexium, Prilosec, and Protonix. These medicines are considered very effective and help heal the esophageal lining. Other drugs like Tagamet and Pepcid reduce acid production, while still others like Reglan help empty the stomach.

Lifestyle modification, such as cutting down on foods that trigger your heartburn, can help. So can avoiding heavy meals, not eating a big meal within two hours of bedtime, and not lying down soon after a meal. Stress reduction may help reduce heartburn incidents. If you smoke, you should quit, as it can be a heartburn trigger.

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How effective is your heartburn or GERD medicine?