Get the basics about acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD. The second type of drug developed specifically for acid-related diseases, such as GERD, was a proton pump inhibitor (PPI), specifically, omeprazole ( Prilosec ). A PPI blocks the secretion of acid into the stomach by the acid-secreting cells. The advantage of a PPI over an H2 antagonist is that the PPI shuts off acid production more completely and for a longer period of time. Not only is the PPI good for treating the symptom of heartburn, but it also is good for protecting the esophagus from acid so that esophageal inflammation can heal.
Despite the development of potent medications for the treatment of GERD, antacids remain a mainstay of treatment. Antacids neutralize the acid in the stomach so that there is no acid to reflux. The problem with antacids is that their action is brief. They are emptied from the empty stomach quickly, in less than an hour, and the acid then re-accumulates. The best way to take antacids, therefore, is approximately one hour after meals, which is just before the symptoms of reflux begin after a meal. Since the food from meals slows the emptying from the stomach, an antacid taken after a meal stays in the stomach longer and is effective longer. For the same reason, a second dose of antacids approximately two hours after a meal takes advantage of the continuing post-meal slower emptying of the stomach and replenishes the acid-neutralizing capacity within the stomach.
The acid perfusion (Bernstein) test is used to determine if chest pain is caused by acid reflux. For the acid perfusion test, a thin tube is passed through one nostril, down the back of the throat, and into the middle of the esophagus. A dilute, acid solution and a physiologic salt solution (similar to the fluid that bathes the body’s cells) are alternately poured (perfused) through the catheter and into the esophagus. The patient is unaware of which solution is being infused. If the perfusion with acid provokes the patient’s usual pain and perfusion of the salt solution produces no pain, it is likely that the patient’s pain is caused by acid reflux.
GERD is a chronic condition. Once it begins, it usually is life-long. If there is injury to the lining of the esophagus (esophagitis), this also is a chronic condition. Moreover, after the esophagus has healed with treatment and treatment is stopped, the injury page will return in most patients within a few months. Once treatment for GERD is begun it will need to be continued indefinitely although. However, some patients with intermittent symptoms and no esophagitis can be treated only during symptomatic periods.