Nothing spreads hysteria through your entire body quite like the fear that something bad is happening to you. On an evening several years ago, after the kids had gone to bed and I was relaxing on the couch with Dave, I noticed weird pains in my body. So, like any normal person would do, I consulted Google and was convinced that I was having a heart attack. As my husband sat there, calmly talking me out of the nervous state I was in, I slowly began to understand that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my heart. I was actually having my first real panic attack experience.
After that incident I knew it was time to visit my doctor. I had been having a hard time breathing normally for several months and not knowing the cause was clearly driving me crazy. As my doctor announced the diagnosis so many things finally made sense! My constant sore throat, upset tummy, trouble breathing, difficulty swallowing, the “mothball” taste I often have and, yes, even the occasional chest pain, all pointed to the same thing… Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
GERD is a digestive disorder. It occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter inappropriately allows stomach acid to enter the esophagus. I was put on prescription strength medication to help control the symptoms but, since I always prefer to try the natural approach before relying on drugs, I decided to go off the medicine and made lifestyle changes instead.
It probably does not come as a surprise to most of you that diet and exercise play a major role in GERD. Being overweight compounds the already uncomfortable side effects of this digestive disorder. It is one of my motivating factors for cultivating an active lifestyle. There are also many foods that can trigger reflux – chocolate, peppermint, coffee, sugar, alcohol, citrus, tomato products, pepper and other hot spices, etc.
While there are certain things I cannot just give up (*cough* coffee and chocolate *cough*) I do still manage a mostly GERD friendly diet that’s rich in vegetables, citrus free fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Many of my favorites include: green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, cucumbers, ginger (think Good Girl Moonshine!), oatmeal, bananas, apples, chicken, fish, seafood, eggs, and avocados.
In addition to watching what goes into my body, I also pay close attention to how often I eat. Instead of three large meals a day, I aim for five small meals so that I don’t overeat. And, since lying down flat after eating can make me feel extremely uncomfortable, I do not eat or drink anything after 7:00 PM. That gives my body several hours to digest whatever is in my stomach before going to bed.
Even though I try to be conscious of maintaining a GERD diet and regular exercise routine, unexpected life circumstances occasionally derail things. When we were spending those weeks in the hospital and at hospice during my father-in-law’s final days, I sat idly for hours and ate lots of GERD-unfriendly foods. And, every once in awhile in normal day-to-day life, there will be a delicious dessert or special food I indulge in. In those instances I try to avoid taking antacids and instead turn to an old Amish formula of apple cider vinegar, ginger and garlic. It’s a hard thing to drink (shudder) but, within just a few minutes, I start to feel remarkably better.
But, sometimes, healthy lifestyle choices may just not enough. Medication might be necessary to protect the body from further harm. This Tuesday I landed myself at the otolaryngologist, better known as the ENT doctor, with a scope stuck up my right nostril and shoved down into my throat. You see (for those of you who know me… you will understand why this is a BIG DEAL) I have started having trouble with my vocal chords. And, who’s to blame? If you guessed GERD then you win! Thankfully, the damage should not be permanent. A six week regimen of medication and a visit to the gastroenterologist will help determine next steps and long term plans.
While I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself and about how my body reacts to certain foods since that initial GERD diagnosis, I also know it’s a forever journey. As I grow older the things that work effectively now may not be adequate long term. Changes will occur and I need to know my body well enough to recognize it – which means that I need to remain aware and continue to take control of my own health.
It can be disheartening to work so hard at controlling something the simply refuses to be tamed and I know I’m not the only one fighting this daily battle. There are millions of people suffering with reflux disorders. If you are one who is impacted by this illness I would love to hear from you! What are steps you have taken to improve your own quality of life?