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Have yourself a heartburn-free holiday

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Updated: 1/25/2013 10:33 am

(BPT) - For many, the holiday period between Thanksgiving and New Year's means family get-togethers, rich food and good times. But it can also mean heartburn.

According to some physicians, planning ahead and knowing which over-the-counter (OTC) treatments may help are essential to keep your gatherings merry and bright.

'The smart thing to do is to be prepared and bring along a few over-the-counter treatments, like antacids or H2 blockers,' says Dr. Paul Farr, attending gastroenterologist for Saint Mary's Health Care. 'The last thing you want to do is have your holiday fun ruined by heartburn.'

Farr suggests that patients consider store-brand OTCs rather than name brands. 'They're just as effective and are approved by the FDA but cost a lot less,' Farr says.

According to Perrigo, a Michigan-based manufacturer of OTC medications found under store-brand labels at leading retailers, grocers, club stores and pharmacies, the primary OTC treatments available for heartburn relief are:

* Antacids. Antacids come as liquids and tablets like calcium carbonate (name brand: Tums).

* H2 blockers. Indicated for occasional heartburn, these medications are most effective when taken an hour before eating. Examples include famotidine and ranitidine (name brands: Pepcid and Zantac).

* Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). PPIs are indicated for people who have heartburn at least twice a week. Omeprazole (name brand: Prilosec OTC) won't relieve heartburn right away - and may take up to four days for full effect - so they're not helpful for immediate, temporary relief after you've already overindulged.

Contrary to its name, heartburn, which affects 60 million Americans at least once a month, has nothing to do with the heart. It's a digestive problem that is also called reflux esophagitis or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Gastroesophageal reflux occurs when contents in the stomach flow back into the esophagus. This happens when the valve between the stomach and the esophagus does not close properly.

Heartburn is most often described as a burning sensation behind the breast bone that moves up toward the neck or throat. This occurs when stomach acid irritates the normal lining of the esophagus. People may also experience acid regurgitation with heartburn, which is the sensation of stomach fluid coming up through the chest into the mouth. Less common symptoms that may also be associated with gastroesophageal reflux include unexplained chest pain, wheezing, sore throat and cough, among others.

'For most people holiday heartburn is nothing to worry about. However, if you're having ongoing symptoms, you need to see a doctor. If you are having any trouble with food sticking on its way to your stomach, be sure to tell your doctor and have it checked out. It may be a stricture which is easily treated. The worst thing you could do is ignore chronic symptoms, hoping they'll resolve in the new year on their own,' Farr says.

You can find more information about the symptoms and treatments for holiday heartburn at the National Institute of Health, or the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.

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