Healing heartburn doesn't have to be expensive

LOS ANGELES "It almost feels like there's a volcano and you're on fire," explained heartburn sufferer, Eric Palatnik.

As Palatnik got older, his occasional bouts of heartburn became more frequent and more severe.

"On your worst nights with acid reflux, the only way I could really get relief was to actually sleep sitting up," said Palatnik.

To treat heartburn, an increasing number of people are turning to a class of drugs called Proton Pump Inhibitors, or PPIs. The biggest seller by far is the heavily advertised prescription drug Nexium.

With a $240 a month price tag, sales of Nexium in 2008 reached nearly $5 billion. It's the second most commonly prescribed brand-name drug in the U.S.

"PPIs can be effective, particularly if you suffer from acid reflux or GERD. But they're often over-prescribed, unnecessary, and expensive," said Dr. John Santa, Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs.

If your doctor suggests a PPI, Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs says several over-the-counter alternatives can work just as well and save you thousands of dollars a year. They include generic Omeprazole, Prilosec OTC, and new Prevacid 24 Hour.

"But before you start taking any heartburn medication more than just occasionally, talk to your doctor about changing diet and lifestyle and see if that helps," suggested Dr. Santa.

That's how Palatnik got his heartburn under control.

"The dietary changes that I've made include cutting out caffeine, chocolate, tomatoes, red sauce, citrus," said Palatnik.

Those are just a few of the changes that might help you put out the fire, without getting burned.

For occasional heartburn, Consumer Reports says, try an antacid like Rolaids or Tums, or an H2 blocker, such as Pepcid AC or Zantac. Best Buy Drugs says these over-the-counter medications can offer quick relief, are quite inexpensive and may be all the average heartburn sufferer needs.

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