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No More Heartburn


Recent studies have also shown that the following measures help:

  • Raising the head of your bed. If your heartburn kicks in during the night, put gravity to work by keeping your esophagus higher than your stomach so stomach acid can't flow up. Place blocks under the bed legs to elevate your head six inches or lie on a special slanted cushion. The Stanford review also found that sleeping on your left side may diminish reflux.
  • Chewing gum after meals. Chewing increases saliva flow, which helps wash stomach acid out of your esophagus, explains Ryan Madanick, M.D., a gastroenterologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For even more help, try Chooz, a brand of gum (available online) that contains an antacid.
  • Picking the right medication. If you have only occasional or mild heartburn, an over-the-counter antacid like Tums, Rolaids, or Mylanta can deliver temporary relief. But if you're taking an antacid more than two or three times a week, see your doctor, who may suggest either a proton pump inhibitor (brand names: Prilosec, Prevacid, Nexium, Protonix) or an H2-receptor antagonist (Pepcid, Tagamet, Zantac). These are available by prescription or, at a lower dose, OTC. Both types decrease the production of stomach acid, but a recent review of 31 clinical trials involving nearly 10,000 patients found that PPIs work better.

In extreme cases, surgery may be called for. The traditional GERD procedure involves wrapping the top of the stomach around the lower esophagus to tighten the floppy valve. The operation is performed under general anesthesia and requires a one- to three-day hospital stay and at least a two-week recovery period. Now doctors can often fix a faulty valve with a nonsurgical outpatient procedure that involves stapling the valve with a device called the Plicator. In a study conducted at 15 centers across the country, 65 percent of patients treated with the Plicator had a major improvement in symptoms (and 62 percent no longer needed any medication) — comparable to the success rate of traditional surgery. 20 Minutes

In October 2004, Cindi Fusco, now 45, started to develop a series of bewildering symptoms. Just about anything she ate or drank triggered a violent coughing spell. So did lying down, making it hard for her to sleep. And then she'd wake up with little or no voice. "Not being able to talk was a huge problem," says Fusco. "My husband and I run an insurance agency. I earn my living on the phone."

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