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The Secrets of Managing GERD and Heartburn

Is it time to get serious about your GERD?
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WebMD Feature

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 find relief.

“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 understood.

Recommended Related to Heartburn/GERD

What Is Acid Reflux Disease?

At the entrance to your stomach is a valve, which is a ring of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Normally, the LES closes as soon as food passes through it. If the LES doesn't close all the way or if it opens too often, acid produced by your stomach can move up into your esophagus. This can cause symptoms such as a burning chest pain called heartburn. If acid reflux symptoms happen more than twice a week, you have acid reflux disease, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease...

Read the What Is Acid Reflux Disease? article > >

Who Needs GERD Treatment?

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.
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