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Holiday Season Could Ring in “Heartburn Season

Making merry is often synonymous with overindulging – whether from holiday feasts or rich desserts or alcoholic beverages – ringing in the holiday season as “heartburn// season.”

Heartburn – generally caused by naturally occurring acids splashing back up from the stomach – is often marked by a characteristic burning sensation that sufferers describe as rolling up into their chest. Fatty foods play a starring role in this process.

“Most of the time heartburn is a nuisance, not a tremendous threat to your health,” said Dr. Stuart Spechler, professor of internal medicine in digestive and liver diseases at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “I tell most of my patients that it’s going to be a tradeoff – is the food going to taste good enough to suffer through the heartburn?

“If you know you’re going to eat something that ordinarily gives you heartburn, there are medications that you can take before eating that food that might help.”

Prevention now emphasized

For decades, the plop-plop-fizz-fizz approach of antacids taken after people already were experiencing heartburn was the only therapy available. Emphasis has since shifted to prevention.

Those who are planning to indulge in foods likely to cause them heartburn can now take a histamine receptor blocker (H2 blockers), which slow the production of stomach acid and are generally available over the counter.

“Most people suffering from heartburn get it every now and then. Those are the people who really benefit from this on-demand therapy,” said Dr. Spechler. “If you’re going to eat something you know is going to give you heartburn, you can take one of those pills a half hour before your meal, and you may be able to prevent the heartburn.”

The most powerful type of medicines, and the ones more suited for people who have ongoing heartburn, are called proton-pump inhibitors. There is only one brand of proton pump inhibitor, Prilosec,
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