GERD: heartburn treatment options

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GERD: heartburn treatment options

You've enjoyed a delicious meal, and suddenly your stomach is on fire. Heartburn! You're not alone. With an estimated 20 million Americans who experience this condition at least once a month, you'll likely find a coworker or friend carrying around a roll of antacids.

But if you're the one reaching for antacids regularly, you may suffer from more than the occasional heartburn. You may have GERD — Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease.

GERD, also known as acid reflux, is a chronic, often progressive digestive disease caused by a weak lower esophageal sphincter that allows harmful stomach acid and bile to flow back up into the esophagus.

How can you reduce the heartburn caused by GERD?

Here are some tips:

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Eat at least three hours before you go to bed.
  • If you're overweight, lose weight.
  • Identify which foods trigger your symptoms, and avoid them.
  • Limit alcohol.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Sleep with pillows propped under your head, or sleep on your left side.
  • Use — according to directions — over-the-counter medications, such as antacids, H2-receptor blockers and proton pump inhibitors.

When to see a doctor

If you've been experiencing heartburn despite taking these steps, and it's been a few weeks, it's time to call your doctor and explore additional treatment options, which could include prescription medication or surgical procedures.

"At-home strategies can help reduce symptoms, but they don't address the underlying anatomical problem," said Akshay Shah, MD, a gastroenterologist with HonorHealth. "And while there are surgeries that can correct GERD, they change the patient's anatomy."

As one of the investigators on a clinical trial at the HonorHealth Research Institute, Dr. Shah hopes to bring another treatment option to those suffering from GERD. The clinical trial is testing a minimally invasive procedure that may return the lower esophageal sphincter to its normal function through neurostimulation.

"This therapy has the potential to help many patients who have not been able to find relief through other methods," said James Swain, MD, the trial's principal investigator and bariatric surgeon with HonorHealth.