It was the strangest thing. It just hit me out of the blue one day roughly four years ago. Although I had never experienced any typical symptoms associated with acid reflux, heartburn, or GERD (gastroesophageal reflex disease), my body, without warning, began to show me that I had a problem in that regard. It all began with a simple gag reflex. I was going about my daily business and just gagged involuntarily. Throughout the day, the number of times I gagged increased. Sometimes I would vomit a bit, but mainly, it was just a strong gag reflex, and it would happen randomly, for no apparent reason.
Not one to immediately pursue medical attention, I toughed it out. However, after a few weeks, it became evident that this “gag and vomit” routine in which my body was engaging was nothing ordinary. As such, I made an appointment with my general physician who then referred me to a GI (gastrointestinal) specialist.
Upon meeting with the specialist, she did a complete run-down of my medical history and concluded that I had acid reflux issues. She ordered a couple of diagnostic tests, one which required me to drink some nasty-tasting fluid while standing in front of a machine that would allow the technician to watch the fluid move along my esophagus and into my stomach.
The other test was an endoscopy. This was a more challenging procedure. An upper GI endoscopy is a procedure that uses a lighted, flexible endoscope to see the inside of the upper GI tract. The upper GI consists of the esophagus, the stomach, and the duodenum, which is the first part of the small intestine. While it is not necessarily a completely unpleasant experience, it does require the patient to be sedated, as having tubes inserted through the mouth and down the esophagus is not easy to endure when fully alert.
The results of this initial endoscopy revealed nothing abnormal. In my subsequent visit with the doctor about a week later, she put me on a protocol of a certain prescription antacid. While I don’t necessarily recall the name of it, I do know that over the course of the next couple of years, I tried every over-the-counter and prescription medicine to treat my growing and increasingly annoying symptoms, but nothing provided the sustained relief for which I was seeking.
During the next couple of years, I continued with the medicinal regimen, trying drugs such as Prevacid, Omeprazole, Prilosec, Zantac, and Dexilant. While they temporarily provided relief, after about two weeks, my body was back to its old, annoying self again.
Foods I once loved and craved soon became esophageal enemies. First out the door were the tomato-based and citrus-based foods. Just one or two bites of those and my esophagus would feel the burn. Just bending over after eating something like that would cause intense discomfort in my upper GI tract.
It was not long before other foods began to follow suit. It literally seemed like everything I ate, except for bread, cheese, and water, caused my upper GI tract to become agitated. For hours after eating, my body would respond with loud “gurgles,” which my husband lovingly called them. Not only were they audible on many occasions, but they could also be felt by someone who happened to be sitting next to me. It was as if anything I ate or drank would crawl its way back up my esophagus from the stomach and demand to make its presence known! Just lying on my bed on my right side was enough to make me hurt. The only thing that made me feel better was to simply not eat. Definitely not an option.
Still, for those next two years, I dealt with it as best as I could. I endured yet another endoscopy. And another. That latter endoscopy in early 2010 revealed something new and unexpected. I was told I had Barrett’s Esophagus, which is a pre-malignant condition of the esophagus. According to my specialist, that would mean that I would have to stay within arm’s reach of a GI specialist for the rest of my life, enduring annual endoscopies to check for cancer. As this is an aggressive type of cancer, it is imperative that it is caught early on for the best treatment options.
My latest endoscopy in February 2011 revealed that my Barrett’s had not changed. However, there were some stomach polyps present, which ultimately proved to be benign. Still bothered by my inability to eat anything without pain or discomfort, I asked my specialist if there were any surgical procedures that could alleviate my symptoms. Since I had virtually exhausted all medicinal therapies with negligible effects, she confirmed that, yes, there was a procedure available, and referred me to a surgeon with advanced experience in this area. Finally! A possibility existed that might alleviate my nagging symptoms that had now just taken up residence within me and had basically taken precedence in all areas of my life.
Stay tuned to see how that important surgical procedure recently changed my life!
(Information for this article was found at http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/upperendoscopy/ and http://www.healthcentral.com/acid-reflux/find-drug.html, a website that provides information on several of the drugs mentioned in this article.)
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