Are you still trying to manage your heartburn and GERD by drinking milk by
the gallon and popping antacids by the fistful? Chances are you’re not getting
the relief you want. But the good news is with the right GERD treatment you can
“We’re more aggressive about treating GERD today,” says Lawrence Cheskin,
MD. Cheskin is a gastroenterologist and an associate professor at the Johns
Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He tells WebMD there are two reasons
for the change. One is that GERD treatments are better. And the other is that
the long-term risks of untreated gastroesophageal reflux disease are better
For most people, heartburn is a treatable symptom. Frequent heartburn may indicate acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD. When treatment doesn't work and heartburn is severe despite lifestyle changes, surgery may be an option. It may also be an option if GERD causes other medical problems. Minimally invasive procedures using endoscopy are also available to treat acid reflux.
There are many good reasons to treat GERD. First, GERD treatment makes you
feel better. Living with uncontrolled GERD -- the pain, the cough, the
sleepless nights -- can be tough.
“GERD puts quite a burden on a person’s quality of life,” says Goutham Rao,
MD. Rao is a board member of the National Heartburn Alliance and an associate
professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “GERD,” he says,
“can be truly debilitating.”
Second, GERD poses some serious long-term health risks. Over time, the
damage to the esophagus can cause complications. One of those is a condition
called Barrett’s esophagus, which is associated with a small but significant
risk of esophageal cancer. Fortunately, GERD treatment can prevent Barrett’s
esophagus from developing.
How do you know if you need treatment for GERD? What’s the difference
between harmless heartburn and more serious GERD? It’s not so much the
severity, experts say, but the frequency.
The usual recommendation is that anyone with symptoms two or more times a
week should see a doctor. Cheskin is more cautious. He says that even symptoms
that occur just once a week should be checked out. “Over the years,” he says,
“even that level of heartburn can cause damage.”
Sometimes the most obvious sign of trouble is how often you use
over-the-counter (OTC) treatments for heartburn relief.
“For me, it got to a point where I was using Tums like they were going out
of style,” says Carmen Butschlick of Milwaukee, who was diagnosed with GERD in
2006. “And I was still having symptoms. That’s when I knew I had to go
see a doctor.”
GERD Treatments: Medications
Medications -- both prescription and over-the-counter -- are the most common
treatment for GERD and heartburn relief. Here’s a rundown of your options.
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). If you have GERD, the odds are you’ll
be prescribed one of these. This class of drugs -- which includes Aciphex,
Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec, and Protonix -- is now the standard GERD treatment.
Not only do they help block the production of acid in the stomach, they also
protect the esophagus from damage and allow it to heal.