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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 further damage.

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 under control.

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."

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