You enjoyed the meal, but now you’re paying for it, big time. You’ve got heartburn — an uncomfortable burning sensation radiating up the middle of your chest. Heartburn, the most common gastrointestinal malady, can hit after you eat spicy foods, when you lie down to take a nap, or perhaps at bedtime. Many women experience this sensation during pregnancy.
About one-third of Americans have heartburn at least once a month, with 10% experiencing it nearly every day. One survey revealed that 65% of people with heartburn may have symptoms both during the day and at night, with 75% of the nighttime heartburn patients saying that the problem keeps them from sleeping, and 40% reporting that nighttime heartburn affects their job performance the following day. This epidemic leads people to spend nearly $2 billion a year on over-the-counter antacids alone. Clearly, it’s a major problem.
Heartburn is an expression of a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), often called “reflux,” in which acid and pepsin rise from the stomach into the esophagus, much like water bubbling into a sink from a plugged drain.
While GERD — and its symptom, heartburn — can be difficult to cope with, many people manage them quite well. However, other people spend countless hours and untold sums of money looking for a way to spell relief.
This report explains the causes of GERD, and what you can do to prevent and treat it.
Prepared by the editors of Harvard Health Publications in consultation with Lawrence S. Friedman, M.D., Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Chair of the Department of Medicine at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, and the Assistant Chief of Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. 24 pages. (2008)
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