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Don't be fooled, your heartburn could be serious

Heartburn can become an escalating problem if ignored.  It can also be a dangerous condition if it is masked by just taking antacids.  

Most people believe, however, that recurring acid reflux is a normal part of over-eating or sampling spicy food. These acid reflux sufferers don’t realize that one out of every three adults struggle with heartburn and regurgitation on a monthly basis, with 50 million people battling symptoms several times per week.  

A nagging problem of heartburn and acid reflux seems easy to fix when watching the many pharmaceutical commercials claiming that a colored pill, taken daily, can solve the problem; in fact many Americans have accepted big pharma’s suggested solution as an easy fix to their woes.  

If you have heartburn for longer than 14 days then you have a bigger problem than a pill can help solve.

Today, the drug industry sells over $14 billion in heartburn medications.  The popular drug is in a class called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) that work by reducing the amount of acid produced within the stomach.

Unfortunately, the millions of people who take these prescription drugs or over the counter medications are masking a serious and developing problem.  

Unknown to millions of people regularly taking PPI pills to solve their heartburn is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warning labels on these prescription drugs clearly states that patients should take the pills for no more than 14 days of temporary relief.  

Two weeks of blocked calcium production in your stomach is the maximum timeframe recommended by medical doctors to mask acid reflux  without being under the care of a physician—any longer can have serious negative consequences. 

If you have heartburn for longer than 14 days then you have a bigger problem than a pill can help solve.

The stomach pains or burning sensation you feel are signals from your body that something is wrong. An acidic stomach is normal and is necessary for the efficient digestion of food.  

So why are you getting those pains frequently?  Simple, it is due to a small valve at the end of your esophagus called the LES, or your lower esophageal sphincter.  

A healthy LES acts as barrier in keeping stomach contents where they belong -- in your stomach.

The LES frequently becomes damaged, and when it does, those acidic stomach contents can flow up into the esophagus. When stomach acid leaves your stomach, it can be painful.  

In fact, over 200,000 individuals visit emergency rooms each year believing they are having a heart attack only to learn that their pain was from acid reflux and not from a heart problem.  

Unfortunately, for a segment of those with reflux disease, heartburn can progress to a precancerous condition called Barrett’s Esophagus, and in some cases, it can advance to adenocarcinoma, better known as esophageal cancer.  

In fact, the incidence of esophageal cancer is the fastest growing of all cancers in the U.S., outpacing melanomas, breast and prostate cancers.

PPIs have proven to relieve symptoms, and for several medical conditions, they are highly valuable for short to mid-term use.  

However, they are not a cure.  

As they cannot strengthen or repair the LES, the cause of gastroesophageal reflux disease, they can only mask the symptoms.  As a result, the disease continues indefinitely.

At a recent gastroesophageal conference, Dr. David Kleiman with the Department of Surgery at New York Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical College presented a research study documenting that 32% of PPI use beyond an initial 8-week trial was unnecessary since there was "no evidence of reflux disease" with those individuals.  

According to Dr. Kleiman, “PPIs continue to be misused and overused in a large percent of our population.”  

If you are experiencing regular heartburn and think you are solving your problem by consistently taking an acid production blocker, you may be masking a serious problem.  

Even worse, you could be increasing your troubles by subjecting yourself to the dangerous and common side-effects of routine PPI usage.  

Instead of turning to costly, unnecessary, and often dangerous pills, you should consult your physician and create a real plan to manage your acid reflux.

Dr. W. Chris Dengler, Medical Director for RefluxMD.com.