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Heartburn and reflux

With so much good food served during the holidays, it’s easy to overeat.

This may have caused heartburn and reflux for many.

Acid reflux, also known as gerd, is a medical condition which causes stomach acid to abnormally travel backwards into the esophagus. About 33 percent of people in the U.S. suffer from reflux. This number has doubled in the past 10 years. This makes reflux the most expensive stomach condition in the US costing nearly 10 billion a year.

The flow of food and stomach acid normally goes from your esophagus to your stomach and is regulated by a valve called the lower esophageal sphincter. In healthy people this valve prevents stomach contents from back flowing into the esophagus. Reflux causes abnormal valve function, allowing acid to escape from the stomach and go into the esophagus.

Heartburn causes symptoms of a burning or painful sensation in your chest. This pain is common after ingesting a meal or at bedtime when you are lying down.

Other symptoms of reflux include a persistent cough, abdominal pain, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness or a bitter taste in your mouth.

Spicy or acidic foods can trigger reflux. Carbonated beverages, coffee, tea and alcoholic beverages can also cause reflux. Smoking relaxes the esophageal valve causing stomach contents to rise into the esophagus, and as a result, causes heartburn. Obesity and pregnancy can increase pressure in your abdomen which can push stomach fluids and acid upward into your upper GI tract.

Symptoms of reflux can often be managed by over the counter stomach neutralizing drugs. Some examples are Prilosec, Prevacid, Nexxium, Zantac or Pepcid.

Reducing precipitating factors can also help. Suggestions are to stop smoking, lose weight, and avoid foods that cause reflux. In more severe cases surgery may be warranted.

Nissen fundoplication is a surgery in which an artificial tightening around the esophageal valve is made which gives more restriction for food to backflow into the esophagus. Also raising the head of your bed or sleeping on more pillows may help alleviate some symptoms by changing the angle in which food travels into your stomach and allowing gravity to do its job.

Avoid lying down soon after eating, eating three hours or more before bedtime and eating smaller meals may help.

Complications of reflux if left untreated can include difficulty swallowing and increased risk of esophageal cancer, also known as Barrett’s esophagitis. This type of cancer is caused by progressive damage to the esophagus resulting in inflammation, ulceration and scarring. Only about 10 percent of people with chronic GERD may develop this condition. If found early, it can be treated.

In people with chronic reflux that has lasted greater than five years an EGD or scope down into stomach is recommended to make sure an ulcer or cancer has not formed. There are a reported 17,000 cases of esophageal cancer a year with nearly 15,000 deaths a year.

Barrett’s esophagitis is more common in white males. Lifestyle changes plus appropriate medical treatment should make it possible for most people to keep their symptoms in check. Always consult your physician if symptoms persist or if you have any questions about your medical care.

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