If you have heartburn, most doctors will tell you to take a medication called a proton-pump inhibitor.
It's used to reduce the amount of acid in the stomach.
But now doctors are finding that one half of reflux sufferers don't get relief from these medications.
"I felt like there was always something in my throat and I couldn't swallow."
Every time 47-year-old Betsy St. Laurent would eat, she felt like her throat was closing. Doctors told her it was acid reflux. So she tried both over the counter and prescription acid reducers.
And when those didn't work, doctors changed their diagnosis to severe food allergies.
"I feel like I developed a lot of anxiety because I was afraid to eat. Every time I would eat, I felt like my throat was closing,” describes St. Laurent.
And that led doctors to give her anti-anxiety medications. But when nothing helped, she sought out a new opinion and that doctor came back to the original diagnosis of acid reflux, but a different kind called non-erosive reflux.
"It's a frustrating problem for these people and it's not a cancer, but it's a quality of life issue and people are truly miserable,” explains Dr. Kevin Gillian.
Surgeon Kevin Gillian specializes in treating acid reflux at Virginia hospital center physician group. He says for some people, it's not the stomach acid causing the problems. It's actually other enzymes in the stomach fluid. So acid reducers like PPIs don't help.
"We can knock out the acid, but it doesn't stop the fluid from coming up and fluid in the stomach has lots of other things that can cause irritation and problems for people that is different than the classic heart burn spectrum,” says Gillian.
PPI's or acid reducers are popular medications and the third largest selling drug in the u-s with 113 million prescriptions being filled each year.
But Gillian says for a lot of people it might be a waste of time.
"It's pointless. It's a medication that is being taken without any possibility of resolving the problem."
Symptoms of non-erosive reflux can be different. But things like tightness in the chest, phlegm in the throat and voice loss are common.
Gillian says instead of trying to treat those symptoms, doctors should try and figure out the cause.
For Betsy St. Laurent, it was a problem with the valve in her stomach causing the reflux and she had surgery to repair it.
"I came to the hospital. They put me out. I woke up and I instantly knew that I felt different. I felt like there was nothing in my throat. I felt like I could breathe and it's been that way ever since.”