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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 continued...

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."

GERD: A Symptom Checklist

"When you see your doctor, talking through your symptoms is nearly as accurate in diagnosing GERD as the tests we have," Richter says. "Are the classic symptoms there? If the answer to that question is yes, it's probably GERD."

What are those classic symptoms? Here's a checklist that will help you gauge your reflux troubles:

  • Do you suffer from heartburn symptoms more than two or three times a week?
  • Do the symptoms feel like a burning under your breastbone?
  • Do your symptoms often get worse after eating?
  • Are you taking antacids after every meal to minimize symptoms? Do they help?
  • Do you feel a burning chest pain when exercising?
  • Are your symptoms worse when you lie down?
  • Do you often taste a faint sense of acid in your mouth?
  • Do you have trouble sleeping at night?
  • Do you have asthma that is made worse when you're having heartburn?
  • Does your voice get scratchy when you have heartburn?
  • Is heartburn interfering with your quality of life?

Answering yes to one or more of these questions might mean you have GERD. Make an appointment to see your doctor.

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