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I just ate a sandwich and a handful of pepperonis, and now I'm suffering from a near-crippling case of SDSU cafeteria heartburn. Years ago I was never plagued by this phenomenon. What causes heartburn, and how do I prevent it? And why does cafeteria food send me bounding for the nearest empty men's room stall when the same meal at home would leave me burping contentedly in front of the TV?

-- Regular Guy, SDSU

Well, I'm not a doctor. And I don't play one on TV. But I know Dr. Seuss and Dr. Demento, so if that's good enough, here's your prescription: Sit up straight, take a deep breath, exhale slowly, and CALM DOWN. You sound like one stressed-out little dude. Heartburn is caused by stomach acids forced back up your esophagus due to malfunction in the valve that's supposed to keep those pepperonis heading south. Slouching or lying down after you eat might cause it. Eating too fast definitely can. And stress often plays a part. Common wisdom is, as usual, incorrect when it names spicy foods as a major contributor.

The cause of your Montezuma Mesa revenge is more problematic but most likely also linked to stress. It's safe to say you're more wigged out at school, confronting a professor than at home confronting Fred Flintstone. But then aren't we all. People who tabulate things like this believe at least a third of our population lives with some sort of stomach complaint. Ah, modern life. I hope I needn't add, Regular, that if these complaints persist, you should see a real doctor. Dr. Pepper, Dr. Scholl, they're real doctors.

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