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Acid Reflux: What It Is and How It’s Treated

Acid reflux medications are among the most heavily promoted drugs on the market. More than 60 million people in the United States have heartburn at least once a month and more than 15 million experience it every single day, according to the American College of Gastroenterology. Here is what you need to know about this uncomfortable, and possibly serious, health condition.

Acid Reflux and GERD

Acid Reflux is defined as the backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus — the tube that connects the throat and stomach. It is common to experience acid reflux occasionally. When acid reflux is more frequent, however, it can irritate the lining of the esophagus and may be considered more serious.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is mild acid reflux that occurs at least twice a week, or moderate to severe acid reflux that occurs at least once a week. Patients with untreated or unmanaged GERD may face more serious complications.

Over time, too much stomach acid in the esophagus may cause a condition called esophagitis, with esophageal bleeding or ulcers. Some patients develop a condition known as Barrett's esophagus . This condition can increase the risk of esophageal cancer .

Common Symptoms of Acid Reflux

What does acid reflux feel like? You may taste regurgitated food or sour liquid at the back of your mouth or feel a burning sensation in your chest (commonly referred to as heartburn).

Other symptoms of acid reflux may include:

  • Bloating
  • Bloody or black stools or bloody vomiting
  • Burping
  • Dysphagia – a narrowing of the esophagus, which creates the sensation of food being stuck in your throat
  • Hiccups that don't let up
  • Nausea

Treating Your Acid Reflux

Most healthcare professionals encourage patients suffering from acid reflux to try diet and lifestyle adjustments before beginning medication. Suggestions may include:

  • Quitting smoking and avoiding alcohol
  • Sleeping on a higher pillow or not laying down for several hours after meals
  • Addressing weight issues
  • Reviewing current medications to see if any particular drugs could be causing the symptoms

Patients may also rely on over-the-counter antacids to neutralize stomach acid. While often effective to treat symptoms in the moment, they may cause other stomach issues if used over a prolonged period of time.

Common Prescription Medications for Acid Reflux

Chronic acid reflux is often treated with medication that is taken over a long period of time . Commonly prescribed medications include:

  • Nexium (generic: Esomeprazole)
  • Protonix (generic: Pantoprazole)
  • Prilosec (generic: Omeprazole)
  • Dexilant (generic: Dexlansoprazole)
  • Prevacid (generic: Lansoprazole)

Your prescribing physician will explain how often you should take your medication and how long you should continue to treatment.

If you are struggling to afford your acid reflux medicine, remember to compare drug prices at different pharmacies (some are more affordable than others!) and to show an Rx medication discount card to your pharmacist when filling your prescriptions.

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