For the past few months I have been dealing with a number of GI issues. I have had everything from acid reflux to pancreatitis and it has been a nightmare. I am writing this article to pass along any general knowledge that I have learned from what I have gone through and from talking to doctors. I am also writing in order to share my experiences with anyone dealing with the same thing. Hopefully, this will be somewhat helpful to others. All information in this article and more can be found here and here. Also, http://www.digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/pancreatitis/ is full of all kinds of gastrointestinal health information.
I have always had a sensitive stomach so when my acid reflux started acting up this winter I did not really really worry about it. My cabinets were already stocked with antacids so I thought I was prepared to handle it. However, none of these over the counter drugs seemed to working this time. My stomach hurt when I ate, I had heartburn, and the reflux was so bad it would actually come back up into my mouth. To make matters worse, I was extremely bloated and burping all the time.
One night my stomach pain got so intense that I went to one of those all night urgent care facilities. I waited for hours for a doctor who gave me prescription strength antacids and told me I would be feeling fine soon. Not so, my stomach actually hurt to touch. I next went to my primary doctor who did an ultrasound on my stomach and said that everything looked fine except for a ton of trapped gas. I was sent home with more ineffective prescription strength antacids.
Still feeling very sick, tired, and in pain, I did what I should have done in the first place – I went to a stomach specialist. He did a scope of my stomach and found a whole lot of interesting things. Not only did I have severe acid reflux, but I had a hiatal hernia (a condition where the stomach is actually partially in the esophagus), polyps or growths on my stomach lining ( non cancerous thank God), and both my stomach and esophagus were extremely inflamed. I did not get too many reasons as to why all this was happening – the implication was my diet and the stress in my life. This doctor prescribed Nexium (an actual medicine) and told me to restrict my diet. I was not to eat anything citrus, no tomatoes, no chocolate, fried or fatty foods, and no juices, sodas, coffee, or red meat. This was not too hard because I was hardly eating anything at all at this point because I felt so bad and had lost a total of 11 pounds – which people keep annoyingly congratulating me about – not really that kind of situation people!
Despite this visit, I ended up in the emergency room later in the week with intense stomach pain that would not stop. It felt like someone was beating me up from the inside out. The ER did more ultrasounds and some blood work. This time I was diagnosed with pancreatitis, which is when your pancreas is painfully inflamed. In really severe cases the pancreas can actually start digesting itself or even rupture. I got a whole lot of heavy duty pain medication, stomach coating meds, and anti nausea medication. I was sent home with the instructions not to eat anything but broth for 48 hours. The only was for the pancreas to heal itself is to rest and not secrete enzymes – which it does every time you eat.
Apparently, pancreatitis is caused mainly by alcohol abuse, gallbladder issues, high triglycerides (with numbers being in the thousands), or medications. I do not drink alcohol, so far every doctor had said my gallbladder looked fine, and my triglycerides are high but not that high, so I am left with the assumption that it must be a side effect of one of the numerous medications I take (a whole other issue). I am still on a restrictive diet including not eating meat or dairy because the pancreas can have issues processing fats and proteins. I also rest a lot and try and control my stress better. My stomach doctor is now looking into what caused these later complications with my pancreas. He does not want it to happen again – because next time will be much worse. Also, the whole gastrointestinal system is connected so something is happening with me on a larger scale than just bad eating habits.
If you are having these kinds of stomach problems go right to a GI specialist. I really think my condition was made much worse by how long it took me to do this (It started in December and I did not go to a specialist until March). If you are doubled over in pain and it will not go away – go to the ER, it could be life threatening. Don’t let doctors send you away with antacids. They won’t work unless you just have a bad case of indigestion. Also check your medication side effects. Finally, be really proactive and eat healthy and don’t drink so hopefully you won’t have to deal with this in the first place. Who knows what long term damage I have done to my system.