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Many people suffer from heartburn or indigestion on a regular basis, and some do not seek treatment.  But when left untreated for a long period of time, the condition could become a serious medical problem.

More than 40 percent of Americans suffer from some form of heartburn.  Persistent heartburn, occurring more than once a week, is a common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.  Dr. Russell Yang, professor and chief of gastroenterology at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, explains some additional symptoms.

SOUND BITE:  TR 1 (1:40 – 2:03)  “Regurgitation is where you get a bad taste in your mouth from food or stomach contents that you have just eaten to come back up.  However, we can attribute a whole variety of other problems such as chronic cough, hoarseness, chest pain, some earaches in children . . .”

GERD can be treated, and in most cases patients can lead more comfortable lives.  Treatment often involves avoidance or reduction of certain foods and beverages such as caffeine, fried or fatty foods, alcohol and peppermint.   Individuals with GERD may need to lose weight and stop smoking.  Dr. Yang suggests some additional treatment options.

SOUND BITE:  TR 1 (4:33 – 5:23)  “The first is antacids.  The second is histamine blockers and third is proton pump inhibitors or PPIs.  Antacids are inexpensive, but they just don’t last as long.  Histamines blockers like Pepcid, Zantac and Tagamet are also good at stopping heartburn, but they don’t work as thoroughly as other medicines.  The other group called PPIs and that’s omeprazole or Prilosec, lansoprazole or Prevacid . . .”

Individuals who have experienced regular heartburn for a few months should be checked by their family physician for possible treatment.  They may be referred to a gastroenterologist (gas-tro’-en-ter-olo-gist) for further evaluation and treatment.  Dr. Yang and his team are pioneering endoscopic therapy to take the place of surgery.

This is Ruth Slottag at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield.