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Doctors seeing spike in heartburn complaints during pandemic

An uptick in heartburn has been seen during COVID-19. One area doctor shares his reasons why and offers tips for relief.

CLARKS SUMMIT, Pa. — More calls to physicians during the pandemic about heartburn has led some doctors to call it all “pandemic stomach."

So much so, that at one point across the country and in some stores in our area, there were limits on how many antacids people could buy.

To find out more and offer tips to soothe that heartburn, Newswatch 16's Ryan Leckey turned to a gastroenterologist to tackle some of your questions. 

Heartburn is something millions of Americans experience every year, especially when we indulge at holiday time. And this year, doctors are getting more calls from patients complaining of symptoms.

"Sort of classically described as a burning sensation in your chest area. Usually worse when you're lying down. Some people get nausea or a sour taste in the back of their throat, something that as a gastroenterologist I see very commonly," said Dr. Jeff Costanzo. "I do say that I during the quarantine months, ever since we sort of opened our office back up, we're seeing a little bit more."

"Why the spike?" Ryan asked. Dr. Costanzo responded, "The quickest answers, we are not sure, it's probably multiple things now, stress, obviously, in the right amount can do anything and contribute to acid reflux."

Let’s face it. With more families stuck at home working and learning virtually and now holiday bills are coming due, there are plenty of factors contributing to our stress. 

"I believe that patterns have probably changed when people are in lockdown and they're eating more, they're maybe gaining weight, which is always a very significant contribution to acid reflux," said Dr. Costanzo.

When it comes to home remedies, Dr. Costanzo, a gastroenterologist from Clarks Summit, has heard just about all of them ranging from baking soda to Aloe Vera, and even peppermint oil. But, he said, "It's important to understand that these sort of home remedies have not been thoroughly, robustly proven through science."

That is why consulting with your doctor on what over the counter medications to take and for how long is crucial. While shopping for them over the past several months, some folks may have even noticed occasional signs limiting customers on how many heartburn meds they could buy at one time. 

Dr. Costanzo explained, "I think that's for a few reasons, the first one is that it's a supply issue, which means that there's one medication called Zantac, which has been pulled off the market because they found trace elements of one compound that they thought might be associated with cancer. So that drug is really no longer available readily. So the market has shrunk in terms of pure number of medications available."

Dr. Costanzo adds, "The second thing is there was some initial information out there when this pandemic was really ramping up in the spring that some of the antacid medications could be used to treat or prevent coronavirus. Now, that has really not been shown consistently to be the case. So it is not something that we recommend on a routine basis. So there are people behaving much in the way that we hoarded toilet paper and things like that at the beginning. Really the same thing."

Lastly, Dr. Costanzo, who works for Eastern Pennsylvania Gastroenterology and Liver Specialists, has this advice we can all take to heart.

"Your body produces acid and what you eat will add to that, and will increase your symptoms, especially if you're sensitive. So the important thing is pay attention to what your own particular dietary triggers are and avoid those if at all possible."