DEAR DR. DONOHUE: In 2004, I had a scope put down my throat and into my stomach. The doctor said I had a hiatal hernia and signs of acid reflux. He put me on Prilosec. It stops my heartburn very well. I have been on it ever since. If I miss two doses, the heartburn returns. Is it safe to take this medicine for long periods of time? — L.K.
ANSWER: Prilosec (omeprazole), Aciphex, Protonix, Nexium and Prevacid are proton-pump inhibitors, the strongest medicines for decreasing stomach acid production. The manufacturers of these medicines suggest a four-to-eight-week course of medicine. The medicines don’t cure heartburn. They suppress it as long as a person takes them. So what’s a person to do when heartburn returns after a course of therapy? Another kind of medicine, like Zantac, can be used. Common antacids often work. Avoiding foods that stimulate acid production is another way to control symptoms.
However, if acid reflux is severe, then the proton-pump medicines are the best. Evidence suggests that long-term use might make a person more apt to have a hip fracture. That danger can be partially offset by taking calcium and vitamin D. Many people remain on these medicines for extended periods. You have to make this decision for yourself.
The booklet on hiatal hernia, acid reflux and heartburn focuses primarily on the common heartburn problem and its treatment. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 501W, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Canada with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I would like to know about the side aches I get when I walk or run. Why do they occur? Do I walk them off or take a break until they go away? — E.H.
ANSWER: What you call side aches, others call side stitches. Everyone gets them. Some feel they are spasms of the diaphragm — the large, thin muscle that serves as a partition between the chest and abdominal cavities and the muscle that is the principal breathing muscle. Or they might be due to too much food or fluid in the digestive tract. Some believe a decreased blood flow to the diaphragm is the cause. In truth, no one knows.
One way to get rid of them is to raise both your arms overhead while taking a deep breath. Then lower your arms while exhaling and simultaneously contracting your abdominal muscles. Another favored treatment is to bend the knee on the side of the pain while pressing your fingers into the painful area.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have what doctors call black hairy tongue. Can you tell me about it? — Anon.
ANSWER: Black hairy tongue, aside from its looks, is an innocent condition that comes from the elongation of tongue papillae, tiny projections from the tongue’s surface. Gently brushing the tongue three times a day with toothpaste, baking soda or 3 percent hydrogen peroxide can usually get rid of it. If it’s not gone in a month, return to the dentist or doctor for a follow-up exam.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.
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