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A Digestive Health Guide: Acid Reflux vs. Heartburn

Written by Lisa Jillanza

Too Much Chili Pepper

As the season of decadence, calories, and over-eating approaches I thought that it might be the perfect time to review some common conditions relating to your body's digestive health, the differences between these conditions and how to prevent and treat them.

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid splashes up from the stomach into the esophagus. According to WebMd near the entrance to your stomach is a valve that normally closes as soon as food passes through it. If this valve doesn't close all the way or if it opens too often, acid produced by your stomach can move up into your esophagus causing symptoms such as burning chest pain otherwise known as heartburn. If your acid reflux symptoms happen more than twice a week, you may have acid reflux disease.

Risk factors that can cause acid reflux include:

  • Eating large meals or lying down right after a meal
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Eating a heavy meal and lying on your back or bending over at the waist
  • Snacking close to bedtime
  • Eating certain foods, such as citrus, tomato, chocolate, mint, garlic, onions, or spicy or fatty foods
  • Drinking certain beverages, such as alcohol, carbonated drinks, coffee, or tea
  • Smoking
  • Being pregnant
  • Taking aspirin, ibuprofen, certain muscle relaxers, or blood pressure medications

Symptoms of acid reflux disease:

  • Heartburn -- a burning pain or discomfort that may move from your stomach to your abdomen or chest, or even up into your throat
  • Regurgitation -- a sour or bitter-tasting acid backing up into your throat or mouth
  • Bloating
  • Bloody or black stools or bloody vomiting
  • Burping
  • Dysphagia -- a narrowing of your esophagus, which creates the sensation of food being stuck in your throat
  • Hiccups that don't let up
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss for no known reason
  • Wheezing, dry cough, hoarseness, or chronic sore throat

Heartburn

Heartburn is an irritation of the esophagus that is caused by stomach acid. Heartburn is the symptom that you feel when you have acid reflux. Occasional heartburn isn't dangerous, but chronic heartburn can indicate serious problems and can develop into gastro esophageal reflux disease, otherwise known as GERD.

One in 10 Americans experiences heartburn symptoms at least once a week and up to 50% of pregnant women suffer from heartburn. The basic cause is when the valve at the entrance of the stomach doesn't close all the way allowing stomach acid to enter the esophagus. Other causes include too much food in the stomach (over-eating) or too much pressure on the stomach (usually from obesity or pregnancy.)

Foods that may trigger heartburn:

  • Tomatoes
  • Citrus fruits
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeinated products
  • Peppermint
  • Dishes high in fats and oils (animal or vegetable)

Stress also increases acid production and can cause heartburn as well as smoking.

In order to prevent and manage heartburn you may need to make some simple lifestyle and diet changes. Here are some suggestions from WebMD:

  • Don't go to bed with a full stomach- Eat meals at least 2 to 3 hours before lying down -- this will give food time to digest and empty from your stomach, and acid levels a chance to decrease before you lay down.
  • Don't overeat- Decrease the size of portions at meal times or try eating four to five small meals instead of three large ones.
  • Eat slowly- Take time to eat -- don't rush, try putting your fork down between bites.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes.
  • Avoid heartburn triggers- Stay away from foods and beverages that trigger your heartburn symptoms. A good way to figure out what foods cause your heartburn symptoms is to keep a food diary.
  • Shed some pounds- If you are overweight, losing weight can help relieve heartburn symptoms.
  • Stop smoking- Nicotine, one of the main active ingredients in cigarettes, can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle that controls the opening between the esophagus and stomach, allowing the acid-containing contents of the stomach to enter the esophagus.
  • Avoid alcohol- If your aim is to unwind after a stressful day, try exercise, meditation, stretching, or deep breathing instead of drinking alcohol.
  • Keep a diary or heartburn log- Keep track of when heartburn hits and the specific activities that seem to trigger the incidents.

Heartburn vs. GERD

If your heartburn or acid reflux symptoms are severe and chronic you may suffer from gastro esophageal reflux disease or GERD. GERD is a severe or chronic acid reflux that can lead to complications, such as cancer.

Occasional heartburn and acid reflux is often treatable with over-the-counter medication or lifestyle modification. To make sure that you don't have anything more severe such as GERD, reference below.

  • Is your heartburn occurring more than twice a week?
  • Has the pattern of your heartburn changed? Is it worse than it used to be?
  • Do you wake up at night with heartburn?
  • Have you been having occasional heartburn that is associated with difficulty swallowing?
  • Do you continue to have heartburn symptoms even after taking non-prescription medication?
  • Do you experience hoarseness or worsening of asthma after meals, lying down, or exercise, or asthma that occurs mainly at night?
  • Are you experiencing unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite?
  • Do your heartburn symptoms interfere with your lifestyle or daily activity?
  • Are you in need of increasing doses of nonprescription medicine to control heartburn?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, your heartburn may warrant attention from a medical professional. People with long-standing chronic heartburn are at greater risk for serious complications including stricture (narrowing) of the esophagus or a potentially precancerous condition called Barrett's esophagus.

The HPV Vaccine Dilemma

Written by Lisa Jillanza

HPV To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? That is the question. Following a period of much hype and speculation, in June 2006 The Food and Drug Administration approved Merck's human papillomavirus or HPV vaccine, otherwise known as Gardisil for girls and women between the ages of 9 and 26. A myriad of health professional groups including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially recommended the vaccine which also helps prevent cervical cancer. However, despite all efforts statistics show that only two out of every 10 women in the approved age groups have gotten the vaccine and now a new debate is popping up around the country regarding whether school systems should require girls and young women to get the HPV vaccine.

But let's start at the beginning. HPV or human papillomavirus is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections on the planet- as many as 80 percent of women will be exposed to HPV at some point in time in their lives. According to Newsweek the virus usually causes no symptoms, is harmless and goes away on its own. However, certain varieties of HPV (there are about 100 altogether) are particularly aggressive. Two varieties- HPV 16 and 18- cause 70 percent of all cervical cancers. Caught early, the disease can be treated with surgery and chemotherapy. If untreated, it can be painful and fairly gruesome. Until the Pap smear was introduced in the 1940's, cervical cancer was the No. 1 cancer killer among women. Since then routine screenings have made enormous strides in radically decreasing the number of cases in the United States. But the disease is far from eradicated. It's still the second most common cancer in women and according to the 2003 World Cancer Report every year, half a million women are diagnosed with the cancer and close to 250,000 die from it.

The vaccination referred to as Gardasil, manufactured by Merck, protects against the two aggressive strains of HPV- strains 16 and 18- that lead to cervical cancer. In clinical trials involving about 21,000 women, the vaccine showed notable results- nearly 100 percent protection from HPV 16 and 18, which cause 70 percent of all cervical cancers. Gardisil also protects against 90 percent of genital warts in men and women which are caused by another HPV strain. It also appears to prevent lesions that could lead to vaginal and vulvar cancers.

To be most effective it must be administered to girls before they are sexually active and it's not beneficial for women that already have HPV. It's been approved for those as young as 9 years old. And it is now up to individual states to determine if immunization should be required in school. But many religious and conservative groups that advocate abstinence oppose mandatory HPV vaccinations. Other reasons that may explain the low number of people being immunized also include the high cost and inconvenience- it typically costs $360 for three shots taken over six months, a lack of awareness regarding HPV and cervical cancer, the low number of regular physician visits among the age group (females age 9-26), and parent's unease over immunizing their kids against a disease contracted through sexual activity.

It's essential that vaccinations among tweens increase so that they are immunized before they may be exposed to the virus. Currently, health officials are trying to target tweens with the concept of an "adolescent platform" of vaccinations that includes Gardasil. Preferably, preteens would get immunizations including the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (or MCV4), the tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis vaccine (or Tdap) and the HPV vaccine.

At this juncture it's still too early to tell if or when immunity may wane and whether women will need to get booster shots later in life. But according to Newsweek, levels of the antibody to HPV appear to stay high for at least five years. Even if another dose is needed later in life, health officials are confident that multiple doses of the HPV vaccine are safe. Dr. Amanda Dempsey of the University of Michigan explains, “It's not biologically possible to get HPV from the vaccine, which contains no live or killed virus and no virus like particles.” The most common side effect has been pain at the injection site.

Swine Flu Overview: Details about the H1N1 Virus and What it Means to Your Health

Written by Lisa Jillanza

H1N1 image 1 We've all been following the progression of the H1N1 virus since it first appeared on the world's health scene last spring. With school's re-opening their doors after summer vacation it's important to re-educate ourselves on the H1N1 virus and what it means to you and your family's health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, H1N1 is a new influenza virus causing illness in people throughout the globe. The new virus was first detected in the United States in April 2009. It spreads from person-to-person in much the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread. On June 11, 2009, the World Health Organization signaled that a pandemic of novel H1N1 flu was underway.

Is H1N1 Contagious and How Does it Spread? H1N1 is contagious and spreads from human to human the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu is spread through coughing and sneezing. People may also become infected by touching something such as a surface or object that has the flu virus on it and then touching their mouth or nose. People infected with seasonal and novel H1N1 may be able to infect others from 1 day before getting sick to 5 to 7 days after.

It's important to note the signs and symptoms associated with H1N1 virus. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Some have also reported diarrhea and vomiting. Most people who have become ill with this new virus in the United States have recovered without requiring medical treatment. However, as with any illness effects have ranged from mild to severe.

How Does H1N1 Differ From Seasonal Flu? Seasonal flu most commonly affects people 65 years of age and older, children younger than five years old, pregnant women, and people of any age with chronic medical conditions. Seasonal flu can cause mild to severe illness with an average of 36,000 fatalities from flu-related complications in the United States and more the 200,000 hospitalizations from flu-related causes. Of those hospitalized, 20,000 are children younger than 5 years of age. Over 90% of deaths and 60% of hospitalization occur in people older than 65.

On the other hand with H1N1 virus, CDC research shows that H1N1 flu has caused greater disease burden in people younger than 25 years of age than older people. At this time, there are few cases and few deaths reported in people older than 64 years old, which is unusual when compared with seasonal flu. Laboratory studies have shown that children and adults younger than 60 years old do not have existing antibody to the virus and about one third of adults older than 60 have antibodies against the virus.

However, pregnancy and other previously recognized high risk medical conditions from seasonal influenza appear to be associated with increased risk of complications from H1N1. These underlying conditions include asthma, diabetes, suppressed immune systems, heart disease, kidney disease, neurocognitive and neuromuscular disorders and pregnancy.

Prevention and Treatment There is no vaccine available right now to protect against the H1N1 virus, however, there is a vaccine that is currently in production and may be ready for the public sometime in the fall. But there are a few everyday actions that can help to prevent the spread of germs that cause illnesses like influenza. Here's a few actions that the CDC recommends you take to ward H1N1 from you and your family: H1N1 image 2 Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. CDC recommends that when you wash your hands, wash with soap and warm water for 15 to 20 seconds. When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers may be used. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way. Try to avoid close contact with sick people. If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.) Keep away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick. Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures. Be prepared in case you get sick and need to stay home for a week or so; a supply of over-the-counter medicines, alcohol-based hand rubs, tissues and other related items might could be useful and help avoid the need to make trips out in public while you are sick and contagious.

What Should I do if I get Sick? If you become ill with flu-like symptoms, including fever, body aches, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, nausea, or vomiting or diarrhea, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people. CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. Data collected during spring 2009 found that most people with the H1N1 influenza virus who were not hospitalized had a fever that lasted 2 to 4 days; this would require an exclusion period of 3 to 5 days in most cases. Those with more severe illness are likely to have a fever for longer periods of time.

If you acquire the virus, stay away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick. Keeping people with a fever at home may reduce the number of people who get infected, since elevated temperature is associated with increased contagiousness of influenza virus.

Many people with flu viruses are contagious until 24 hours after their fevers go away, but at lower levels than during their fever. Shedding of influenza virus can be detected for 10 days or more in some cases. Therefore, when people who have had influenza-like illness return to work, school, or other community settings they should continue to practice good respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene and avoid close contact with people they know to be at increased risk of influenza-related complications. Because some people may shed influenza virus before they feel ill, and because some people with influenza will not have a fever, it is important that all people cover their cough and wash hands at all times.

If you feel any of the symptoms described above, contact your health care provider or seek medical care. Your health care provider will determine whether flu testing or treatment is needed. If you become ill and experience any of the following warning signs, seek emergency medical care.

In children, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include: Fast breathing or trouble breathing Bluish or gray skin color Not drinking enough fluids Severe or persistent vomiting Not waking up or not interacting Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

In adults, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include: Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen Sudden dizziness Confusion Severe or persistent vomiting Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

Dinner's Ready! Heart Disease Nutrition

Written by Lisa Jillanza

family eating dinner

America is reeling from a number of recent high profile deaths all linked to a common culprit- heart disease. Music icon, Michael Jackson, died at the age of 50 after reportedly suffering from cardiac arrest. TV pitchman, Billy Mays, likely died of a heart attack in his sleep. And last year renowned journalist, Tim Russert, collapsed at NBC's Washington News Bureau from a heart attack.

Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States. It's a heavy-handed predator that has more than likely affected you or somebody that you know. But the silver lining on this otherwise bleak overview of heart disease is that there are measures that can be taken to prevent this disease. One of the most important things you can do to combat heart disease is to learn about heart disease nutrition and start eating a heart healthy diet. It's been proven that changing your diet can help stop or even reverse heart disease. So even if you're known to consume hotdogs and ice cream like they're going out of style, adapting your nutritional intake now can aid in preventing disease in the future.

By implementing a heart-happy nutrition strategy you can help reduce total and LDL cholesterol (this is the "bad" cholesterol), lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, and reduce overall body weight. If you already have heart disease you can reduce your chance of developing atherosclerosis (blocked arteries that cause heart disease) by simply paying closer attention to what you're feeding your body. If you've been effectively clogging your arteries for a while no, you can also slow the rate at which it progresses.

But rather than focusing on what we can't eat lets discuss what you can eat. In fact, according to WebMD heart disease research has shown that adding heart-healthy foods is just as important on cutting back on others. So what exactly can you eat?

  • Eat more fish or other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids
  • Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and high fiber foods
  • When eating fat, consume fats high in monounsaturated fats like olive and peanut oil

Below are a few items you may want to eliminate from your diet:

  • Limit total fat grams and eat only a bare minimum of saturated and trans-fats like butter, margarine, sweets and fried foods.
  • Limit salt-sodium
  • Eat a variety and not too many protein-rich foods. Commonly eaten protein foods (meat, dairy products) are among the main culprits in increasing heart disease risk. Reduce this risk by balancing animal, fish, and vegetable sources of protein.
  • Limit cholesterol consumption. Get energy by eating complex carbohydrates (whole-wheat pasta, sweet potatoes, whole-grain breads) and limit simple carbohydrates (regular soft drinks, sugar, sweets).
  • Stay at a healthy weight by balancing the calories you eat with your physical activity.

You may also want to try some of the best foods for you that you're probably not eating posted by MSNBC. These foods include beets, cabbage, guava, swiss chard, cinnamon, purlane, pomegranate juice, goji berries, dried plums, pumpkin seeds

So next time you're mulling over your dinner menu, keep these guidelines in mind. You could be saving a life.