Article originally published on January 13, 2020.
As the nurse coordinator for the Fairfield Medical Heartburn Center, I talk to patients every day who suffer from a chronic, progressive condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. GERD causes symptoms like heartburn, regurgitation, chest pain, nausea, vomiting and shortness of breath. I know these symptoms all too well. Like many of my patients, I struggled for years with persistent heartburn, eventually becoming a patient at the same place where I care for others every day.
I first experienced heartburn while pregnant with my oldest child. After my third child was born, the heartburn symptoms never went away. I initially treated my heartburn with over-the-counter medications like Tums®. The annoyance of my symptoms were something I dealt with the best I could – until they worsened and began to cause upper stomach pain. I realized I needed to start making my health a priority, so I underwent diagnostic testing. It revealed some serious medical concerns – a hiatal hernia, GERD and Barrett’s esophagus, in which stomach acid mutates the esophagus tissue. I was prescribed daily medication to reduce the acid production, which controlled my symptoms for many years. When my symptoms worsened, my dosage was increased to the maximum limit. Even then, I still had to supplement with over-the-counter medications to find relief. The medication was helping, but it wasn’t doing anything to fix the underlying disease.
That’s when I experienced a major scare. One evening, I inhaled my own stomach contents while sleeping, which caused pain, coughing, panic and an upper respiratory infection. That was the final straw for me. With the help of the Fairfield Medical Heartburn Center, I opted to undergo surgery to correct the weakened part of my esophagus that was causing the heartburn. FMC offers two surgical options to correct GERD – the Nissen Fundoplication and the LINX® Reflux Management System. Although not everyone needs surgery, it was the best option for me. Today, I am finally living a heartburn-free life.
Patients are often surprised to learn that I lived with GERD for many years. If my story sounds familiar, it’s time to talk to your doctor or schedule a free nurse consultation with me (no physician referral required). To make an appointment, call 740-689-6486. Below are five common myths I often hear from patients regarding acid reflux and heartburn.
Heartburn Myth's & The Truth
Instead of pillows, raise the head of your bed 2″-3″ or use a wedge pillow. Both allow gravity to keep the fluid in your stomach. You should also sleep on your left side.
Reflux should not be ignored. It can affect your life beyond just your symptoms, causing poor sleep, limited diet options and reduced work productivity. It also can create problems like Barrett’s esophagus, which has been linked to esophageal cancer. The more you experience reflux, the greater the need for an evaluation.
Anyone can suffer from acid reflux/heartburn. An unhealthy lifestyle can increase your risk of developing GERD, but the condition is actually caused by a physical abnormality of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Bad diet, smoking and eating acidic foods may trigger the condition, but changing those habits can greatly reduce your symptoms.
While reflux can be treated with over-the-counter or prescription medication, those pills only treat the symptoms, not the condition. If you take over-the-counter medication, talk to your doctor about your reflux symptoms. While safe, these medications aren’t meant to be a long-term solution without an evaluation.
Chamomile or licorice may be a better alternative, as they won’t trigger the stomach to produce more acid or cause further symptoms.