This time of year we eat too much. Why do we feel we will never be able to eat that food again?
This time of year we drink too much. Determine how many calories you drink throughout the holidays and you would be surprised.
This time of year we stress out too much. When we stress we pack on everything we eat and drink.
This time of year we put our exercise on the backburner. More than ever we should be exercising to offset the overindulging of eating, drinking and stressing.
How often do you pop a couple antacid tablets and go on with your day? Have those tablets become part of your daily routine, like dessert after every meal? Do you ignore it, figuring you just ate too much or that the food was too spicy? Heartburn–that burning feeling in your lower chest and/or that sour taste in the back of your mouth–can sometimes be very serious.
If you frequently have heartburn, it can evolve into GERD or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. Not only can GERD be very painful it; it can also cause damage to your esophagus, leading esophagitis, indigestion, and upset stomach. When my symptoms started, I began taking regular antacid tablets and progressed to whatever the newest and most potent over the counter pill was available.
Heartburn is very common in US society for three main reasons: we often eat high-fat and otherwise unhealthy diets, we tend to be overweight, and we have stressful lifestyles. My symptoms began many years ago when I was pregnant. Other than the pregnancy, I wasn’t overweight, but of course all of my extra weight was in my abdomen. That put additional pressure on my stomach, forcing the juices and acid back up into the esophagus and eroding away at the esophageal lining. Problem is, after the baby was born, the symptoms did not go away–probably because of my former, very high-stress career and my tendency to internalize stress, not knowing the damage it was causing.
Listen to your body in order to decide when you should see a doctor. I am not a doctor, and I’m not trying to give you medical advice. However, the answers to the following questions may help you decide if the time has come to make an appointment. Remember to listen to what your body is telling you.
■Is your pain frequent (twice per week or more)?
■Is your pain severe?
■Has the pain gotten worse?
■Have antacids stopped working as well as they used to?
■Are antacids a part of your regular diet?
Whatever you do, don’t wait until your symptoms become severe. I actually started having chest pains so bad that I thought I was having heart attacks. It was very frightening, and it never had to get to that point. I went to the emergency room and was referred to a cardiologist for further testing. My heart was good, so I was referred to a gastroenterologist.
The gastroenterologist evaluated my symptoms right away. I had an endoscopy, which is considered an outpatient procedure. I was placed under a mild anesthetic, and a lighted tube with a camera was placed into my esophagus through my mouth. The doctor took pictures and measured the signs of damage. The results really opened my eyes to the problem with the statement, “It’s just a little heartburn.”
I was advised I had Barrett’s esophagus, which is a precancerous condition. My doctor prescribed a proton pump inhibitor which reduced the amount of acid my stomach was producing. In addition, the following lifestyle changes also helped me:
■I started eating smaller meals throughout the day, putting less stress on my stomach.
■I started exercising regularly.
■I lost weight (when my baby was born).
■I reduced my alcohol and caffeine intake. (This helps because alcohol and caffeine relax the muscle that keeps the acid from backing up.)
■I stopped eating 3-4 hours before bedtime. This was the hardest change because I have a busy life and often put dinner off until late at night. But this was also the most important change. I really notice a difference if I eat too late.
These are changes that will benefit almost everyone’s health–and not just when it comes to heartburn. On the other hand, if you are experiencing severe heartburn, you should probably go ahead and see a doctor right away. Lifestyle changes are a good thing, but you want to see your doctor—before permanent damage occurs. With a doctor’s help and lifestyle changes, you can probably reverse some of the effects even if you have full-blown GERD. If you are like me, the whole experience might just steer you down the path of a healthier lifestyle. I enjoy my life more than ever!