My 15 year ordeal with heartburn and ulcers.

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Heartburn can be a nearly incapacitating ordeal.  As a former sufferer, I can attest to waking up in the middle of the night to take antacids, drink milk, etc..  I constantly carried antacids with me and used them many times a day.  Finally, when it seemed I could control it no longer, I sought medical help.

I belonged to an HMO, so I was appointed a doctor.  He did not have a good “bedside manner”, and was actually quite gruff.  He ordered a barium test, which is a procedure in which you swallow a liquid laced with, you guessed it, barium.  An imaging machine takes pictures of your gastrointestinal tract, and the doctor can identify any problems.  This seemed to be a complete waste of time, as nothing was found.

Next, I was scheduled for a “endoscopy”,  a procedure in which a camera is inserted into your GI tract and into you stomach. The procedure is not as uncomfortable as it sounds.  You must fast overnight.  The procedure can be done in the doctors office, but some insurance companies require that the procedure be done as an outpatient.  You are given a shot of demerol which relaxes you, and an aerosal spray is sprayed into your throat, making it numb, and minimizing the gag-reflex.  Next, a tube in inserted into your throat, this is probably the most uncomfortable part of the procedure, and it’s really not tha bad. After the tube is in, the doctor inserts a camera into the tube (it looks like a tube also, but has a camera on the end)  allowing him to see the GI tract and the stomach.  The apparatus also allows the doctor to take a sample of your stomach lining for analysis in the lab.

My doctor found a couple of problems, one was a faulty valve of sorts.  When you are not swallowing, a valve in your GI is supposed to stay closed to prevent acid from escaping.  If it is allowing acid to escape, it is called a hiatal hernia, which was my diagnosis.  The doctor also discovered two ulcers in my stomach.  It’s no wonder I was having heartburn.  The doctor had taken a biopsy of my stomach, and had it tested for h-pylori, a common virus that causes heartburn in many people, and can be cured with a round of anti-biotics.  My problem was not that simple however.  I was prescribed Zantac 150, which is an acid reducer, and told to come back in two weeks.

After taking the Zantac 150, once daily for a few days, my heartburn was nearly non-existant, and I could eat foods that I had been avoiding for years, such as chocolate, coffee, nuts, orange juice, tomato juice, anything with a tomato-based sauce, etc..  I returned to the doctor and underwent another endoscopy, and discovered that both ulcers were nearly healed.  He gave me a prescription for Zantac150 and away I went.  Problem solved, right?  Not quite.

Through the years, my heartburn returned, and I supplemented the Zantac 150 with antacids, and was back to carrying them around with me constantly.  I returned to the doctor and was prescribed Zantac 300.  Once again, the heartburn nearly disappeared…for a while.  Then, I was prescribed Zantac 300 twice a day, with the same results.  Finally Zantac 75 was released OTC and I would buy more to supplement my prescription, along woth using antacids, but my heartburn persisted.

Finally, in desperation, I decided to look into a procedure in which the leaky valve is tightened up.  I asked a friend who is a nurse to reccomend a good doctor, and scheduled an appointment.  The new doctor (I was no longer in an HMO) listened to my history and asked a lot of questions, among them, why did I want the operation?  I wondered if he had it all together, I had just expalined in detail, my situation.  Then he asked if I had tried any of the “new drugs”.  I didn’t know what the was talking about, I’d never heard of anything new.  He expalined how the surgery works, and the problems associated with it, such as, a 50% recidivism rate, and the valve being overtightened, resulting in difficulty swallowing.

At last, he prescribed some of the new medicine, although I told him I was sure it would not work.  I was very pessimistic.  In the meantime he scheduled me for an endoscopy, and he confirmed the hiatel hernia diagnosis, and also told me that my ulcers were getting worse.  By this time, I had been on the new medication for about three days, and the heartburn was gone…completely, however I was sure it would return again as it always had in the past.

Weeks went by, the heartburn was non-existant, and I became cautiously optimistic.  Finally, I decided to give it a real test…orange juice, I hadn’t drunk it in at least ten years, and I was sure it would give me painful heartburn.  It didn’t.  I was amazed and started adding other foods to my diet, things I hadn’t enjoyed, and had missed for years.  My 15 year ordeal was over!

Returning to the doctor for a routine endoscopy, which was entirely positive, I asked him what the difference was between the two medications and he explained;

The Zantac is an acid reducer, which is like antacids on steroids, it reduces acid in the stomach, and thus relieves heartburn.  Many people however, simply produce more acid to compensate for that which has been neutralized.  So the medication must constantly be increased to the point where it is essentially useless.

The new medicine, Prevacid, however “turns off” the acid producers in your stomach, though not all of them, as acid is required for digestion.

Now I take one pill in the morning and don’t give heartburn another thought.  The medication has literally changed my life.  I can eat any foods I like so my diet has improved and can even drink socially.  The biggest difference however is NO MORE HEARTBURN, and  my ulcers have healed!

So how long has it been?… about 10 years, and I still take the same strength that I was initially prescribed, once a day.  So if you’re having heartburn that disrupts your life, do something about it.   Prevacid is not available OTC, however Prilosec is, and it is essentially the same drug.

Untreated heartburn can lead to other problems and should not be ignored.


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