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Should you be reconsidering those heartburn drugs, consider this

May 11, 2010 |  1:12 pm

SalsaMany Americans combat heartburn with drugs. And why not? The drugs are effective, and they don't require much of the heartburn sufferer except a glass of something with which to wash them down. But a new report raises questions about whether immediately resorting to acid-reducing medications such as Prilosec, Nexium and Protonix is the best policy.

As noted in Tuesday's article, Drugs that reduce stomach acid also increase risk of bone fractures, studies show, medications known as proton-pump inhibitors boost the risk of breaks and of contracting the bacterium Clostridium difficile.

The article states:

The family of drugs, which also includes Losec, Zegerid, Prevacid and omeprazole, is widely used to treat conditions in which excess stomach acid causes pain and bleeding, including ulcers, and gastroesophageal reflux disease, in which stomach acid is regurgitated into the esophagus. But the drugs are also widely used to treat simple heartburn, and that is the condition for which they are most widely overused, experts said.

Sigh. The risks are small, but yet again, it appears we might be better off taking charge of our own diet and lifestyle rather than popping a pill at the first twinge. A pity perhaps, but ...

To that end, here's a comprehensive overview from Medline Plus on gastroesophageal reflux disease. Though the condition often does require drugs, some of the same measures that can keep GERD manageable will also thwart heartburn. (There's even a tutorial. Fun, yes?)

For starters, lose weight. If you smoke, stop. Eat smaller meals. Avoid tight clothing. Don't sleep -- or exercise -- immediately after eating.

If that sounds doable -- or even if it doesn't, but small steps are not out of the question -- WebMD offers a wealth of practical advice on coping with heartburn and GERD. Among the offerings: a list of foods that should probably be avoided, a heartburn log to help identify other food triggers, heartburn diet recipes, even ways to barbecue that won't be a prescription for pain.

Here's some additional food-and-GERD advice from HealthCentral, including meal ideas, party guidance and food label tips.

Drug-less control of heartburn may be possible -- if not always pleasant. (That avoid-chocolate-and-spicy-foods advice, for instance.) 

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Just don't.

Credit: Los Angeles Times