In June, I went out for my normal early morning run and about 1/2 mile into it I got this incredible burning sensation in my chest. I knew I was out of shape coming back from a knee injury, but this was a bit overwhelming. So, what is the first thing a runner does; runs through it. That lasted about two steps as the pain was incredible, but I continued walking/running for the duration of the workout. My first thought was that I must have overdone it eating the chili peppers the night before – it was that kind of burn but with the intensity really ramped up. As soon as I finished the workout the pain was gone. Thinking it was odd, I emailed, Nurse Jesse, my friend for an explanation. She went into frenzy mode and insisted I go to the ER as it could be heart related (and, of course, I have a genetic history of heart related problems). I felt perfectly fine; yet, wanting to heed her advise emailed my doctor who asked several pertinent questions and decided it wasn’t a life-threatening situation but made an appointment to see me in short order. I had a physical, a blood test, an EKG, another EKG, a stress test, a lung test and all were fine. This was over the course of several weeks and in the interim Jesse found a link for E.A.G.E.R. (Exertion-Associated Gastroesophageal Reflux) and I was convinced this was what ailed me. I then decided I would cure this naturally and called my nutritionist. He determined that my pH was out of balance and prescribed more and even more vegetables and green drinks. I kept whining, “why me” as my diet was fairly sound and my weight within the BMI range of normal.
The intensity and duration of the pain was inconsistent; the only constant being that the pain manifested itself only when I ran or climbed a very steep hills in hiking. And, the other constant was that nobody bought the idea of it being exercise induced. I then went into research and google mode trying to learn all I could about this and found that several runners had experienced similar situations and they were all GERD related. I seemed to be getting better – then whamo, this last weekend varying degrees of the pain continued for several hours in hiking and on into the normal day. Some of the pain was incredibly intense. I quickly gave up any idea of a natural remedy and I am now taking the prescription drug, Famotidine and keeping my fingers crossed that is will end soon.
But back to GERD and what I learned. Over 60 million Americans (this is just us!) experience heart burn at least once a month and over 15 million experience symptoms once a day. That’s a whole lot of pain going on!
Reflux occurs when a muscular valve at the lower part of the esophagus malfunctions and allows acid to enter the esophagus (flowing backwards) causing the burning sensation. Avoiding trigger foods (chocolate, alcohol, coffee, peppermint, greasy/spicy foods & tomato based products) along with not smoking and weight reduction helps alleviate the problem. Essentially none of these applied to me which was most frustrating (yep, whining again)! But nobody seems to tell you ‘what’ to eat. So, I am focusing heavily on my nutritionist’s advise of a very heavy alkaline diet (which I thought I had been doing all along).
There are several over the counter remedies ranging from antacids (think Tums) to two types of drugs that work to reduce the production of acid in the stomach (also available with prescription in higher dosages): histamine antagonists (H2 blockers) and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). Histamines stimulate acid production (my drug!) and PPIs block acid production – HUH? And to make matters even more confusing, there is ‘one’ drug that has a combination of both of these actions. Then I read that most doctors do not believe that any one drug is significantly more effective than the others in managing GERD. Remember how many people just in the U.S. suffer from some form of this pain? You can just imagine how many different drug companies have jumped on the band wagon and how many choices there are in each category.
And nobody seems to know anything about what really causes this or how to actually cure it. Can you sense just a bit of frustation from me? I only hope this adventure ends soon as it has definitely placed a HUGE obstacle in my training for my half marathon races this summer and fall! (end of whining for a bit) Stay tuned………….