Experts estimate that anywhere from 18 to 28% of American adults suffer from Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Here at Tablets Pharmacy, that number doesn’t surprise us at all as many of our customers ask us about medications to relieve heartburn pain.
GERD is essentially chronic heartburn. Most patients understand it’s painful, but don’t believe it’s dangerous to their overall health. Unfortunately, GERD can cause very serious complications.
Excessive acid reflux damages the esophagus and can lead to serious health complications, such as open sores or ulcers which bleed into the gastrointestinal system. Repeated damage will form scar tissue, narrowing the esophagus and making it difficult and painful to swallow. GERD can lead to Barrett’s esophagus, which is implicated in raising the risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma, a type of cancer.
Research into the causes, mechanics and relief of chronic heartburn have produced an array of recommendations and pharmaceutical treatments to lessen the harm of GERD.
Heartburn occurs when abdominal pressure and stomach irritation forces stomach acids back up into the esophagus. For people with GERD, the muscles that control the opening between the esophagus and the stomach fail to keep the connection closed, allowing stomach acid to more easily back up into the esophagus and throat. When you have heartburn more than twice a week for several weeks, you may have GERD. It’s vital to take steps to minimize the harm to your body.
Reducing or neutralizing stomach acid has long been the first line of approach to treating GERD, typically by using over the counter antacids. Your Tablets Pharmacist may also recommend histamine blockers. These medications don’t quickly neutralize acid; they lower the production of stomach acid. Similarly, proton pump inhibitors work by blocking acid production and giving the esophagus time to heal.
Ask your Tablets Pharmacist for help in finding the over the counter medications that will work best for your overall health and your symptoms. We will want to review all your medications and supplements before recommending GERD treatments. Histamine blockers and proton pump inhibitors actually change how the stomach works. Proton pump inhibitors can slow or prevent the absorption of other medicines you might be taking. Histamine blockers also put a particular stress on kidney function.
For many GERD patients, symptoms can improve by also making some lifestyle changes. Acid reflux occurs because abdominal pressure pushes acid up into the throat. Eating smaller meals, avoiding late night eating, and losing weight are natural methods to minimize pressure. Foods that irritate the stomach, including spicy foods, acidic foods like tomatoes, onions and citrus fruits, coffee, tea, alcohol and fatty foods, can also increase abdominal pressure. Avoiding or moderating these foods can produce significant improvements. Patients with GERD can also mechanically manage some of that abdominal pressure by staying upright after eating and sleeping on the left side with the head elevated, so the stomach is lower and the acid is less likely to get to the esophagus.
If over-the-counter treatments and lifestyle changes aren’t relieving your GERD, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms and the best approach for relief. More powerful antacids may be prescribed to treat the painful heartburn. Depending upon the severity of your symptoms and inflammation, your doctor may also recommend a prescription-strength histamine blocker or proton pump inhibitor.
Having GERD is fairly common, but you don’t have to live with the pain and health complications. Talk to your Tablets Pharmacist and your doctor. Lifestyle changes coupled with over the counter and prescription medications should give you relief from these symptoms, and help avoid long term health consequences.