7/24/02 -- Heartburn Tips

You've seen the commercials and heard people talking about heartburn. But what is it? Those who know a lot about the subject say the acid in your stomach actually backs up and burns the tissue in your esophagus. That leaves a scar, and that scar can lead to cancer.

Brenda Cox is convinced to stay healthy she not only has to watch what she eats. Brenda, like 20 million other Americans has chronic acid reflux, but her's only seems to strike at night. "I started waking up at night with chest pains, it would wake me up maybe an hour or two after I went to sleep and I'd feel like rubbing my chest. It was like 'OK, what's going on here'," Brenda says. Brenda's condition can be especially dangerous. Doctors say such cases may be the cause of an alarming rise in people diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. Dr. Sheryl Pfeil says, "Night-time heartburn sufferers are up to 10-times more likely to develop esophagal cancer."

One recent study shows in just the last 20-years, cancer of the esophagus has shot up a staggering 350-percent in caucasian men. Some believe day-time heartburn isn't as bad because you're awake, aware of it and can take medicine to control it. That's not quite true. Pills, even prescription drugs only mask the symptoms, they can not stop the acid from doing its damage, especially when you're lying down. Dr. Pfeil says, "Of course, at night you're lying down so you don't have the effect of gravity and you tend to have more reflux in that regard and you're not swallowing as often." And when you're asleep the acid sits in the esophagus longer, doing even more damage. If heartburn tends to keep you awake at night see your doctor. A simple procedure can reveal just how bad your reflux is, how much damage has been done and what they can do to fix it.

There are lots of things that cause heartburn, including pregnancy. But the most common cause of chronic reflux is a weak muscle at the end of the esophagus. There is a minimally invasive procedure that can fix that muscle and end the problem.

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