Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) temporarily reduce symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), but a GI doctor can treat the root cause of heartburn.
Acid Reflux vs. GERD
Is your heartburn getting worse and not sure what to do next? If you are trying to control chronic heartburn with over-the-counter medication, you are only masking the symptoms. It’s time to consult a gastroenterologist.
Getting prompt treatment for heartburn is important because persistent acid reflux is a common symptom of GERD, a condition that can damage the esophagus and cause esophageal strictures, Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer.
Common symptoms of GERD include:
- pain in the chest
- burning throat
- persistent cough
- belching after meals
- sore throat
What are PPIs?
Unlike antacids like Tums or Rolaids which neutralize stomach acid, PPIs block acid production in the stomach. Some of the most common over-the-counter PPIs include Prilosec, Prevacid, Nexium, Protonix, Aciphex and Dexilant. These medications are effective, inexpensive and available without a prescription, but recent studies link long-term PPI use with possible serious health risks like osteoporosis, low magnesium, low vitamin B12, stroke, pneumonia, dementia and C. difficile infections.
How Long is Too Long to Use Over-the-Counter PPIs?
Over-the-counter PPIs are generally considered safe for eight weeks to help you heal from acid-related complications like frequent heartburn. If you still need PPIs after eight weeks, you should see a gastroenterologist to determine whether the PPI is still necessary. A GI doctor is trained in diagnosing digestive disorders and diseases and can help you get to the root cause of acid reflux.
Some upper GI issues do not require PPIs and you may find more relief from natural, holistic approaches like dietary changes, weight loss, exercise and sleep modifications. Your gastroenterologist can perform necessary tests and suggest the best course of treatment for your specific condition.
Is Long-Term PPI Use Dangerous?
If you are currently under the care of a gastroenterologist who has prescribed a long-term PPI, you should take your medication as directed. Your GI specialist has determined the PPI is beneficial for healing, maintenance of healing and long-term control. Certain conditions like Barrett’s esophagus can benefit from long-term PPIs. However, you should see your GI doctor regularly so he or she can periodically reevaluate your PPI dosage. The goal is for you to be on the lowest possible dose that brings effective healing.
GI Doctor vs PCP
You may think going to your primary care physician (PCP) will be equally effective, but this is not the case. A gastroenterologist is better equipped to diagnose and treat upper GI problems and symptoms than a general practitioner. This is because gastroenterologists are required to complete a gastrointestinal medicine fellowship, meaning three additional years of training following a residency in internal medicine. GI doctors use diagnostic testing like an upper endoscopy to view the lining of the esophagus and even take a tissue biopsy if necessary. When you make an appointment with a GI doctor, you are putting your digestive health in the care of an expert.
According to the American College of Gastroenterology, more than 60 million Americans suffer from heartburn at least once a month and more than 15 million experience acid reflux daily. Are you one of these individuals? Call today to make an appointment with a fellowship-trained gastroenterologist so you can experience long-term relief.