President's Rx: Heartburn

Few young people expect to be diagnosed with a lifelong illness, especially one that could interfere with their social life.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also called GERD or heartburn, is a condition that can affect people of all ages. And although GERD isn't life threatening, it can be life altering if not managed effectively.

Heartburn symptoms vary widely both in quality and severity from person to person, but often include a burning sensation in the chest, difficulty swallowing, burping, bloating, feeling like food is stuck in the middle of the chest or throat, and even a chronic cough or a sore throat. To ease discomfort associated with GERD, take these steps:

Keep a diary. Keep track of when heartburn hits and the specific activities that seem to trigger the incidents. Write down a detailed description of everything you eat. Note the length and severity of any heartburn symptoms as they occur. Review the diary after several weeks to see if you can identify triggers, like fatty or acidic foods, alcohol or caffeine.

Make mealtime relaxing. Many of us often eat on the run. Try to schedule your meals at consistent times throughout the day, and aim to eat slowly. If your heartburn is worst at night, try eating dinner earlier in the day and sleeping with your head propped up.

Get active. If you are overweight, losing weight can definitely help relieve heartburn symptoms. Other lifestyle changes like quitting smoking may also be helpful. Most of us experience heartburn from time to time. But see your doctor if symptoms persist.

If over-the-counter remedies only partially relieve your misery, you may need to rule out the possibility of something more serious, like a stomach infection.