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You start to feel it in the middle of your afternoon meeting, a burning sensation in your chest accompanied by a sour taste at the back of your throat. Or maybe it’s the middle of the night. Acid reflux, again.
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“Acid is produced by the stomach and is fine as long as it stays in the stomach. However, if any of the acid flows back up the esophagus, the result is acid reflux,” says Bryan Graveline, MD, McFarland Clinic Gastroenterologist.
“Normally, a muscular valve at the lower end of the esophagus keeps the acid in the stomach and out of the esophagus. However, this muscle can weaken and open, allowing acid into the esophagus. ,” says Dr. Graveline.
Over time, the acid can damage the esophagus so it is important to minimize acid reflux occurrences.
Over-the-counter medicines are very effective at managing acid reflux. Two types of medications are available and are recommended for treatment based on the frequency of your acid reflux.
“For occasional acid reflux take an H-2 blocker like Zantac or Pepcid AC. These work quickly, within 1-2 hours to relieve symptoms. Do not take these everyday because they will stop working,” says Dr. Graveline. “Proton pump inhibitors, like Prilosec or Prevacid, are for people who experience acid reflux frequently. These should be taken every morning to prevent acid reflux."
If you have untreated acid reflux for five or more years, or have acid reflux and over the counter medicine isn’t helping, it is time to see your medical provider.
“Untreated and poorly treated acid reflux commonly results in scar tissue that narrows the esophagus,” says Dr. Graveline. “Food starts to stick in the stricture, and people end up in the ER for an emergency endoscopy. We see this quite often around the holidays.”
“If you notice any type of food sticking in your throat, call your primary care provider immediately and they will get connected with the gastroenterologist,” says Dr. Graveline.
Ongoing damage to the esophagus can increase the risk of esophagus cancer.
“The amount of esophagus cancer diagnoses have been climbing for the last 20 years. After five or more years of untreated symptoms, you start to run the risk,” says Dr. Graveline.
Acid reflux occurs in people of all ages. Lifestyle modifications like losing weight, even 5-10 pounds, avoiding caffeine, fatty foods, and alcohol can ease suffering.
“As good as these recommendations sound, over the counter medicines are often an easier solution,” says Dr. Graveline.