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Acid reflux has forced me to suddenly wake up countless times, in a state of panic, choking on my own acid and gasping for breath.
Nothing can really describe the burning bile feeling, or the taste it leaves in your mouth as you try not to gag and throw-up. I have had to stick a pinch of toothpaste into my mouth and leave it there to try and cut the bile taste.
I was diagnosed with a hiatal hernia as a teenager, which may contribute to acid reflux. The burning acid had left me alone for most of my 20’s. However, a high stress job and a subsequent gain in weight and lack of exercise brought the acid reflux back on with a vengeance in my 30’s.
When I started having almost constant waves of heartburn and acid indigestion, sitting upright at my desk, I knew it was time to see the doctor.
At that time, I had never heard of acid reflux.
He told me that more than 60 million people suffer from frequent heartburn, acid indigestion or GERD (Gastroesophogeal Reflux Disease).
Acid reflux describes the regurgitation of acid back up the throat. It can also lead to more serious medical conditions that may require hospitalization.
My doctor explained this happens when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) does not close properly and stomach contents leak back, or reflux, into the esophagus. The LES is a ring of muscle at the bottom of the esophagus that acts like a valve between the esophagus and stomach. The esophagus carries food from the mouth to the stomach.
When refluxed stomach acid touches the lining of the esophagus, it causes a burning sensation in the chest or throat called heartburn. The fluid may even be tasted in the back of the mouth, which is called acid indigestion.
Heartburn that occurs more than twice a week may be considered GERD, and it can eventually lead to more serious health problems.
When I finally went and saw my doctor, I was having almost constant heartburn and acid indigestion.
He further explained that symptoms are usually worse at night when the person is lying flat and acid flows easily from the stomach back up the esophagus.
Anyone, including infants, children, and pregnant women, can have GERD.
I was told to make some lifestyle and dietary changes. They included:
1. Using a wedge pillow to elevate my body at bedtime
2. Eating plenty of fiber and drinking lots of fluids.
3. Eating small meals and eating slowly.
4. Not lying down for at least 1-2 hours after eating.
5. Losing extra pounds. Added weight causes extra pressure on your stomach and can irritate symptoms.
6. Wearing loose clothing. Tightly fitting clothes put extra pressure on your stomach.
7. Not exercising for at least one hour after eating.
8. Avoiding the following: alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, chocolate, carbonated beverages, spices, fried and fatty foods, tomato products, citrus, and peppermint.
I am a non smoker and I don’t drink that much. I do drink a fair bit of coffee however. The real culprit for me though has been drinking fruit juice of any kind before bed. When I have, my acid reflux has been significantly worse.
As I have made many of these changes to my lifestyle, I have seen some relief.
The elevated pillow works wonderfully. I have also started taking proton pump inhibitor medication, which reduces acid production in my stomach. I have been told surgery may be an option down the road.