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Spring 2005

Treatments Soothe Heartburn Symptoms

Heartburn—the most common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)—affects 40 million Americans at least once a week. When the valve at the end of the esophagus malfunctions, acid and bile from the stomach can reflux (or roll back) into the esophagus, resulting in a burning sensation behind the breastbone, at times accompanied by a sour taste in the mouth.

“The overwhelming majority of people can be successfully treated with acid-inhibiting drugs along with diet and lifestyle modifications,” says Bennett Roth, M.D., medical director of the UCLA Center for Esophageal Disorders.

Over-the-counter products neutralize or inhibit acid produced in the stomach, providing short-term relief from mild heartburn.

“People who experience heartburn more than twice a week may benefit from proton pump inhibitors— medications that are more potent and provide longlasting relief,” Dr. Roth notes.

Properly diagnosing GERD is key to effective treatment. Not all symptoms of GERD are related to heartburn (see chart). Only a minority of patients develop complications of GERD. However, it can cause bleeding, ulceration, scarring, stricture and changes in the esophageal lining that in some cases can develop into cancer.

“A malfunctioning lower esophageal sphincter, a poorly functioning esophageal muscle, a hiatal hernia, or a stomach that does not contract and empty properly may be underlying causes of GERD,” notes Mary Maish, M.D., surgical director of UCLA’s Center for Esophageal Disorders, a comprehensive center for the treatment of GERD, Barrett’s’ esophagus, swallowing disorders, motility disorders and esophageal cancer.

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