IT'S A FEELING ALL TOO FAMILIAR TO MILLIONS OF AMERICANS, AN UNCOMfortable, burning sensation that begins in the chest and neck after a meal. The burning is real, caused by acid being regurgitated into the esophagus from the stomach. It occurs when a muscular valve, which should be tightly closed except when food is swallowed, relaxes or operates inefficiently, allowing stomach contents to back up. In other parts of the world, most people accept it as a fact of life--and tough it out. In the U.S., says Dr. John Walsh, former president of the American Gastroenterological Association (A.G.A.), "only a fraction...

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