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There is a common misconception that if you suffer from acid reflux, you must be eating spicy foods, drinking martinis and smoking cigars on a regular basis.

This is not true, said Dr. Anish Sheth, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at Yale University.

In fact, lifestyle factors may account only for occasional heartburn sufferers, he said.

A person who experiences acid reflux on an everyday basis is more likely to have an anatomical or medical condition.

1. Sphincter has low pressure

Acid reflux occurs when the acidic contents of the stomach pass up into the esophagus, and the sphincter muscle (the barrier between the two) has a defect, so it is unable to block the acid.

If the sphincter muscle has low pressure, it causes acid reflux.

“Some people just have a low pressure, and we don’t know why,” Sheth said. “Pregnancy can lower the pressure, as can blood pressure and depression medications. But, most of the time, we don’t know what causes it.”

For patients who suffer from a low-pressure sphincter, there is hope: a minimally invasive surgery known as fundoplication can provide relief.

2. Pregnancy

“Elevated progestin hormones cause the pressure of the sphincter to go down,” Sheth said. “And the increased pressure of the growing uterus predisposes the woman to acid reflux.”

The good news is that once the pregnancy is over, the symptoms of acid reflux are likely to disappear.

3. Hiatal hernia

A hiatal hernia is very common (at least 40 percent of Americans have them) and doesn’t necessarily cause acid reflux, Sheth said.

However, in a subgroup of patients with very severe reflux, a hiatal hernia – where the upper portion of the stomach moves upward into the chest – can cause acid to reflux, Sheth added.

Hiatal hernias can range in size from 1 to 4 centimeters. They can be repaired during fundoplication surgeries.

4. Gastroparesis

This is a disorder in which the stomach takes too long to empty its contents.

“Normally, the acid is produced and emptied into the small intestine, but if it sits in the stomach for longer, by sheer logic, it will come back up into the esophagus,” Sheth said.

5. Obesity

“Even though obesity is a lifestyle issue, it’s also something that can go overstated,” Sheth said.

“Obesity increases the pressure in the stomach area, so for people who don’t have the other medical causes, the sheer presence of obesity will cause them to have acid reflux.”

6. Bisphosphonates

This class of drugs prevents and treats osteoporosis in women and, occasionally, cause acid reflux in users.

“They stand out,” Sheth said. “They don’t necessarily cause reflux, but they can cause esophageal irritation, which can feel like heartburn.”

Sheth added it is always worth a quick review of any medication that you are taking long-term to see if acid reflux is one of its side effects.

7. Lifestyle

People who have heartburn “every now and then” may benefit from making lifestyle changes, Sheth said.

If they decrease their chocolate and/or caffeine intake (or other food or beverages that may irritate their symptoms), lose weight and stop smoking, they are likely to see a reduction in acid reflux symptoms, he said.

1.     You’ll be paying more. Even as the pace of increases in the cost of health care has eased, prices continue to rise. Consumers who get health care through work will pay 5 percent this year for premiums, an average of $6,251 ($17,545 for a family), with workers contributing an average $1,071 ($4,955 for a family). Health care costs are also increasing, along with deductibles. 

The high cost of health care is having an impact on whether consumers access treatment at all. One in three Americans say they have put off medical treatment for themselves or a family member because of the cost.

2.     It’s becoming easier to shop around. In addition to higher-priced plans, more consumers are enrolling in high-deductible health plans, hoping that they won’t need medical care. Cost concerns are prompting consumers to compare pricing and outcomes at various providers.

Insurers are increasingly offering tools that allow consumers to do so through their sites, and there are also several third-party apps and web sites offering similar services. “Consumers obviously want more transparency around pricing, now that they’re dealing with these huge deductibles,” says Trine Tsouderos, a director of PwC’s Health Research Institute.

3.     Care goes retail. Time-crunched, cost-conscious consumers are skipping scheduled appointments with their family doctor in favor of a stop at a walk-in clinic located in a pharmacy, retail chain or supermarket. “Those models are actually letting consumers access care more quickly and at a lower cost,” says Joel White, president of the Council for Affordable Health Coverage.

The retail health industry is surging to accommodate the growing demand, with the number of clinics expected to grow 12 percent next year from around 2,150 clinics this year to about 2,400 by the end of 2016.

4.     Telemedicine continues to rise. More insurers are covering telemedicine services in 2016, which also allow consumers to access health care 24/7 from home, without the inconvenience of visiting a doctor and at a fraction of the price. The cost of a telemedicine call is usually around $25 to $30 and can be covered with FSA or HSA dollars if it’s not covered by insurance. 

Telemedicine is expected to grow around 40 percent per year over the next five years, from its current $645 million to more than $3.5 billion in 2020, according to a report from IBISWorld.

5.     Medical-grade wearables come to market. FitBit and Apple Watch are great for the casual health enthusiast to keep track of his vitals, but the potential for so-called “medical-grade wearables,” devices designed to aid in the prevention or treatment of a specific disease is just starting to be realized. “We’re starting to see more and more devices going through the FDA approval process,” says Robin Farmanfarmaian, author of The Patient as CEO: How Technology Empowers the Healthcare Consumer.

Some products in this space include the Modus Health Watch, which the VA is using to help monitor patients with prosthetics, and the Empatica Embrace Watch, which can detect seizures in patients with epilepsy. A Soreon Research report expects the market for wearables, which is still in its infancy, to reach $41 billion by 2020, driven by growth in devices aimed at combating diabetes, sleep disorders, and cardiovascular disease.

6.     Drug prices come under pressure. Lawmakers and regulators  (and presidential hopefuls) have been ramping up their scrutiny of drug pricing practices amid several flagrant instances of alleged price gouging (see Turing Pharmaceuticals and Valeant), and consumer advocates are becoming more vocal about the price of even generic pharmaceuticals. Both companies have since rolled back their price increases, and experts say that while drug prices will continue to rise the practice of hiking prices purely for profit may be on the wane.

7.     Medical ID theft is an even bigger problem. While technology is creating amazing gains for medical care, it’s also creating serious weak spots. A recent Accenture report projects that 1 in 13 patients (about 25 million people) will be a victim of medical ID theft due to provider data breaches. Victims of medical ID theft, in which thieves steal your Social Security number and health insurance info in order to fraudulently obtain medical services or treatment, spend thousands to restore their credit and correct inaccuracies in their medical records. Unlike banks and credit card issuers, most healthcare organizations offer no protection services for victims.

8.     Your doctor may no longer be in network. As companies and insurers look for additional ways to reduce healthcare costs, they’re increasingly narrowing the networks of doctors and medical providers with whom they offer preferred rates. That means that even if you haven’t changed your insurance plan, your doctor may no longer be “in-network.” 

9. Private exchanges will continue to grow. A growing number of businesses are opting out of providing traditional insurance for workers in favor of private exchanges, which allow consumers to search for health insurance in much the same way they’d search for a vacation package on Travelocity.com. The companies are providing workers with a set dollar amount they can spend on the exchanges—and employees who want a more robust plan can make up the difference out of pocket. The number of workers who buy health care on private exchanges doubled from 3 million to 6 million in 2015, and is expected to double again in 2016 to 12 million. 

10. House calls make a comeback. Several start-ups around the country are now promising to deliver a doctor to your door within an hour or two. Apps like Heal in California, Curbside Care in Philadelphia, and Mend in Dallas are all aiming to bring back the old-fashioned house call. Silicon Valley isn’t the only one who sees value in bringing care to the patient. Since 2012, Medicare has been testing a home-based primary care program to see whether it can improve quality of care and stave off the need for a patient to move to a nursing home.

It may already be winter, but we haven’t reached the season’s peak — and it seems the same can be said about the flu.

According to Scientific American, the flu will reach its maximum point in February. And in even better news, it will likely be mild compared to other years. This is late compared to the last three years, when influenza reached its highest point in December.

This forecast is based on a new model, which looks at past flu seasons in the United States and makes mathematical predictions based on how the flu spreads. Then, it takes into account the latest data on the current flu season to make an educated guess on what the flu has in store for us.

Based on current data, there’s less than a 20% chance that influenza will reach its peak in January, but a 57% chance it will do so in February.

The season coming later in the year likely means less cases of the flu, which is the reason why scientists predict it will likely be milder than in years past.

“Historically, earlier-peaking flu seasons have tended to be more intense…[and] later-peaking seasons tend to be more mild,” reports Dave Osthus, a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory who leads the flu forecast project.

As good as this all sounds, the model is still new and the lab admits there are factors that can lead to false readings. Researchers plan to pay attention to how well “the flu shot matches the strains of flu in circulation.” They also will pay attention to the number of Wikipedia searches for the flu, which can also help predict flu outbreaks, according to LiveScience.com.

For now, doctors say the later peak for flu season will allow more time for people to get the flu shot. And yes, they still recommend getting the flu shot, noting the term “mild” refers to how many people get sick, not the severity of the flu strain.

Did you know:  Sore Throat (Pharyngitis). Viral pharyngitis infection is the most common cause of a sore throat and the etiologic agents are usually respiratory viruses, including adenoviruses, coxsackie A viruses, influenza, or parainfluenza virus. It is self- limited, and normally goes away on its own. Streptococcal pharyngitis  which is the most frequent bacterial cause of infectious pharyngitis.  In the winter months during Strep outbreaks, as many as 30% of episodes of pharyngitis may be caused by Strep A.

There are many reasons for a sore throat. Allergies, postnasal drip, colds, the flu, and bacterial infections all cause a painful throat. There are some symptoms, however, that make it more likely that you have strep throat, and need to be seen by a doctor.

If you have a sore throat or feel something coming on, visit our local Oklahoma City Urgent Care Clinic located on the NE Corner of May & Britton. We will get you feeling better faster.

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