Symptoms of reflux, such as heartburn, are among the most common digestive ills. In a Swedish study, 6 percent of people reported experiencing reflux symptoms daily and 14 percent had them at least weekly. Such frequent symptoms may indicate a person has GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease. Aside from being painful, GERD can harm the esophagus over time or even lead to esophageal cancer.
Heartburn typically involves a "hot or burning feeling rising up from the center of the abdomen area and into the chest under the breastbone or sternum," says Michael Gold, a gastroenterologist at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. "It may be accompanied by a sour taste in the mouth, or hypersalivation, or even finding food or fluid in your mouth," particularly at night. Pregnancy, some medications, and consuming alcohol or certain foods can cause heartburn. Kids under age 12 and some adults may have GERD without heartburn, instead
experiencing asthma-like symptoms, trouble swallowing, or a dry cough.
Treatment options include drugs that reduce acid levels, such as the proton pump inhibitors Aciphex, Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec, and Protonix and the H2 blockers Axid, Pepcid, Tagamet, and Zantac. But taking medication is not without risk. In 2008, a study found that a proton pump inhibitor may weaken the heart-protective effect of the blood thinner Plavix in patients taking both medications.
In severe cases of GERD, surgeons can tighten a loose muscle between the stomach and esophagus to inhibit the upward flow of acid. Laparoscopic surgery, which involves small incisions, has been found to lessen scarring and shorten recovery time compared with open procedures.