The Coastal Post - January, 1997

Heartburn's A Bitch: It Can Be Treated with Education and Common Sense

A Stanford Medical Center Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery specialist says there are a few common-sense strategies that are helpful in relieving the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which include heartburn, sore throat, painful swallowing, hoarse voice, indigestion, and

chronic cough.

Ear, nose and throat surgeon for heartburn?

"Yes," says Dr. David S. Utley, "we see a large number of patients with symptoms referable to GERD, a process which occurs when stomach acids and digestive enzymes back up into the esophagus and upper throat." Fifteen million people see their physician every year for symptoms of heartburn and reflux.

Estimates show that about 100 million Americans suffer from heartburn and related symptoms, resulting in a $3.7 billion yearly expenditure on medications for this problem. Many companies are aggressively marketing anti-acid medications in over-the-counter formulas. Many people are electing to self-medicate their GERD symptoms without the advice of a physician.

"While medication is clearly necessary for some GERD sufferers, the medical literature supports the fact that the vast majority of patients can reduce of eliminate symptoms with some relatively simple-to-follow strategies," says Utley. "We start our patients immediately on a formal education program before any prescription medications are recommended." This information has been organized into a book for patients called "Stop the Heartburn".

Some of the strategies for reducing heartburn symptoms include:

No late-night eating

Eliminate coffee, tea, chocolate, alcohol

Avoid high fat foods

Avoid carbonated, caffeinated beverages

Eat smaller, more frequent meals

Avoid specific culprit foods that uniquely cause your symptoms

(tomatoes, onions, spicy foods)

Avoid peppermint and spearmint

Stress management program

Exercise and weight loss program

Elevate the head of your bed

See your physician for further advice

"Heartburn is the most common symptom of GERD," says Utley. This is characterized by a burning sensation in the chest or throat, indigestion, bloating, or chest pressure. Since these symptoms can be similar to those of a heart attack or heart disease, patients should consult with their physician.

"In our specialty (ENT) the most commonly seen symptoms are sore throat and hoarseness. We also see patients with asthma, in whom GERD is worsening their asthmatic symptoms.," says Utley. GERD can also cause frequent bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia among children and the elderly.

If GERD symptoms persist after a trial of life-style modifications, a primary care physician or specialist can help provide further treatment in the form of acid suppressing medication. Further diagnostic work-up may also be indicated including endoscopy of the upper airway and esophagus or pH probe studies. Surgery is a final option for some patients who fail to have relief after aggressive medical treatment.

To learn more about the education program mentioned by Dr. Utley, call 415-562-3800.