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Acid reflux.

Oops! When Ashlee Simpson appeared on Saturday Night Live last October, a technical glitch exposed a secret: The singer was using prerecorded vocal tracks--she was just singing along. Simpson's defense: A hoarse voice caused by acid reflux, or gastroesophageal (GAS-troh-ih-sah-fuh-JEE-uhl) reflux disease (GERD). Can her story be believed?

With GERD, the valve that links the stomach to the esophagus (tube that connects the mouth to the stomach) frequently relaxes. That allows the stomach's contents, including acids used for digestion, to reflux, or travel up the esophagus. If reflux happens often, the stomach acids can damage the esophagus. And--as Simpson claimed--reflux may also cause a hoarse voice. As the liquids move through the esophagus, small amounts can leak into the adjacent larynx (voice box). That can harm the vocal cords inside, says Dr. Hashem El-Serag, a doctor of the esophagus, stomach, and intestines at Baylor College of Medicine and spokesperson for the American Gastroenterological Association.

GERD most often afflicts older adults. But some teens suffer too. "About 3 to 5 percent of adolescents suffer from symptoms [of reflux disease] more than once a week," says El-Serag.

Bad news for Simpson's singing career: GERD is a chronic disease. Doctors commonly treat patients with medications that block stomach-acid production. They also recommend avoiding fat-rich foods, which increase relaxation of the stomach valve, making GERD worse. Some advice for Simpson: Steer clear of French fries.

Did You Know?

* Ashlee Simpson is not the only famous person to have experienced GERD-related voice problems. Some sufferers: Former President Bill Clinton and pop singer Tom Jones, according to gastroenterologist Hashem El-Serag.

* In addition to fat-rich foods, mints, chocolate, strawberries, and spicy foods can worsen GERD. That's because these foods increase relaxation of the stomach valve.


* To learn more about gastroesophageal reflux disease in teens, check out this Web site:

* This kid-friendly Web site is filled with information and interactive activities related to digestion and acid reflux:
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Article Details
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Author:Norlander, Britt
Publication:Science World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 7, 2005
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