GERD: The Hell of Heartburn

Some of the medication most prescribed in the United States are to help treat heart burn.  Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs like protonix, omeprazole, aciphex, etc.) and Histamine 2 Blockers (H2Blockers like ranitidine) are part of, what pharmacists call, the Top 200 (the top 200 medications that we dispense each year.  I, myself, take omeprazole.  Chronic heartburn, or gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), can be caused by multiple things:

  • Asthma
  • Connective Tissue Disorders
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Poor Eating Habits
  • Hiatal Hernia
  • As well as some medications (check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if your medication could be causing your GERD)

GERD can rear its head with many side effects:

  • Dry cough
  • Hoarse Voice
  • Chest Pain
  • Chest Tightness
  • Hiccups
  • Foul Taste
  • Dental Damage
  • Dry Cough, etc.

GERD may seem like an inconvenience.  Heart burn can definitely cramp your style when your out to dinner with friends, but it can even make chores difficult.  Bending over to do the laundry or tie your shoes can be painful, taste gross, and can make you want to vomit.  These are short term problems, but in the long run you can end up with ulcers in your esophagus, esophageal strictures (or scar tissue), which can make it difficult for you to swallow food,  or even cancer!  These aren’t the long term side effects you want to deal with!  There isn’t much you can do about having asthma or a connective tissue disorder other than getting treated by your doctor, but a hiatal hernia can be fixed with a  fairly simple surgery.  Smoking, obesity, and poor eating habits are definitely modifiable.  Smoking and obesity are relatively simple.  Stop smoking and lose weight.  It can take awhile, you can have a few slip ups, but in the end everyone is capable of living a healthier life (please see previous blogs for healthy weight loss).  Eating correctly for acid reflux is a bit tricky.  Everyone has their own trigger.  I’m from New Mexico and I can eat chile until it comes out of my ears!  Onions and peanuts on the other hand… ugh!  Reese’s peanut butter cups make me want to down a whole container of Tums.  What set’s off your heartburn?

The one trigger that I usually find that most people have is greasy fatty food.  The fat lubricates that muscle that keeps your esophagus separate from the stomach, thus allowing the acid to escape.  Food intolerances can cause acid reflux as well.  Poor eating habits can really set you up for some horrendous acid reflux.  Not only can it lead to weight gain, which has be proven to cause GERD, but it also destroys the health of your intestines.  Your small intestine helps you digest your food, but digestion actually begins in your mouth and stomach.  When your small intestines lose some of their flora the stomach has to kick it into overdrive to help digest your food correctly.  This means more mobility of our stomach and more acid, which can definitely lead to acid reflux.  How do we fix this?  Oh my god I’m going to harp on having a better diet again:

  • More fiber (scrubs your intestines and feeds those good bacteria)
  • Less simple sugars (this is quick energy, but it doesn’t really improve the health of your intestines)
  • Probiotics (love yogurt, capsules work too, just watch how much sugar or fake sugar is in your yogurt)
  • Move (This isn’t eating, but this will get your intestines moving, which will help with digestion)

If your heartburn isn’t better after modifying your lifestyle it is definitely time to go see you doctor.

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