Severe Heartburn? It May Be GERD
Heartburn may seem like an irritation, but it can lead to serious health complications -- if left untreated.
Medications for GERD
If lifestyle changes alone aren't enough to keep the disease in check, you
may need a prescription medication. In fact, if you're popping antacids more
than once a week for heartburn, that's also a sign you may need more aggressive
treatment. Relying on antacids alone can be dangerous, since they don't prevent
long-term damage to the esophagus.
Two categories of drugs on the market today help treat GERD: H2 blockers and
proton-pump inhibitors. Though you can buy some over-the-counter versions of
the drugs, see your doctor first to have your symptoms evaluated and determine
which treatment is best.
H2 blockers, which have been around for more than 30 years, are generally
regarded as a good short-term option for people with mild forms of GERD that
flares up often, but not every day. H2 blockers work by decreasing the flow of
stomach acid, which helps heal minor irritation of the esophagus and prevents
Proton pump inhibitors are required when GERD symptoms are frequent or the
severity of the disease has progressed significantly. These drugs are more
effective than H2 blockers at reducing acid flow and healing the esophageal
lining even when it has been badly damaged. They are also better at managing
symptoms for longer periods of time and preventing relapse.
Long-term treatment for GERD may be necessary, since symptoms often flare up
again when treatment is stopped -- unless lifestyle changes are able to get it
As a last resort, and when GERD symptoms have caused significant damage to
the esophagus, surgery is an option. The procedure repairs the valve between
the stomach and the esophagus, preventing acid reflux from occurring and giving
the esophagus an opportunity to heal.
GERD isn't curable, but it is treatable with medication and healthy living
-- which means there's no reason to suffer through sleepless nights or an
uncomfortable feeling after a meal.
"Many people try to live with GERD, but there's no need to do that,"
says Raymond. "It has such a severe impact on quality of life when left
untreated. The good news is that it's manageable. See your doctor, discuss your
treatment options, and get on with your life."