I generally have to be very careful about what I eat
Edward, 69 years old
"My heartburn was pretty mild at first and I didn’t pay much attention to it. But then I started getting it more often and it got worse, and I had acid reflux. I also started getting more pain in my chest area."
I’ve been living with reflux for over 20 years now. My heartburn was pretty mild at first and I didn’t pay much attention to it. But then I started getting it more often and it got worse, and I had acid reflux. I also started getting more pain in my chest area. So I went to see a doctor about it. He arranged for me to have a gastroscopy, where they found out that I have a cascade stomach (ed. note: an atypical form and position of the stomach), which apparently caused the reflux. I was prescribed medication which was meant to make my stomach produce less acid. I’ve taken it ever since.
I made some changes in my life
As well as taking medication, I also changed my diet and my lifestyle in general. Taking medication alone didn’t do the trick for me personally. I also changed the way I sleep: I now sleep on my left side, with the top end of my bed raised. This helps to manage the acid reflux a bit and I can sleep better that way.
I avoid alcohol and hot spices because they don’t agree with me. My wife takes this into account when cooking. She generally seasons our food less nowadays, and tends to use more herbs. And she steams things more. Fatty foods like fried potatoes are a problem for me. But I can’t always avoid them when we go out to eat.
I now eat very slowly and calmly, and only ever eat small portions because my stomach reacts badly to big portions. I no longer gulp food down. That’s something I’ve learned. It used to be different when I worked. Back then I was pressed for time and often ate very quickly. The food in our cafeteria wasn’t right for me either.
I generally have to be very careful about what I eat. If I do drink wine then I make sure it’s good quality wine. I completely avoid beer and other alcoholic drinks. I’ve had to adapt to my illness in this way.
My chest pain had nothing to do with my heart
Things also used to get worse when I was stressed at work or upset. My stomach would react quickly to that. It really affected my everyday life. Now that I’m retired and at home it’s not as much of a problem anymore. I get by just fine and can structure my day the way I want to. My life has calmed down a bit.
I recently had chest pain again. The problems in my food pipe make me feel pressure in my chest, which tenses up. I used to worry that I was having a heart attack. But it has nothing to do with my heart. I now know that because I had it checked out: I have a healthy heart. Nowadays I know that the symptoms come from my food pipe.
Sometimes I worry that I might have a tumor in my food pipe, particularly when the pain gets worse. Then I go to the doctor. Any changes in the food pipe can be seen by doing a gastroscopy, taking a sample of tissue and doing tests. If everything looks fine, I feel relieved.
I don’t feel anything during the gastroscopy procedure itself because I’m always given an anesthetic. I fall asleep then and don’t feel anything at all. Having gastroscopies used to be a problem for me. I found it very painful and unpleasant. But the procedure has become much more pleasant over the years. One disadvantage, though, is that I can’t see anything or talk to the doctor during the gastroscopy. But I get a report afterwards, and the doctor explains the results to me.
I can now manage my symptoms
So far I haven’t had to consider surgery because I’ve been able to keep things under control with medication and a change in diet. But I have to admit that the medication has side effects. I sometimes have diarrhea, and my mouth and eyes are dry. I have other medication to treat that. I can live with it though.
The currently prescribed dose generally works well for me. Sometimes, though – if I have acute pain in my upper stomach or chest area – I take more. I usually take my medication in the evening. If things get worse, then I also take a tablet in the morning and at lunchtime. If the pain gets very bad, I sometimes take a painkiller too.
I once had an ulcer in my duodenum (ed. note: the part of the small intestine nearest the stomach), and one in my stomach too. But I haven’t developed any ulcers since I started taking the medication.
I have regular check-ups. My doctor does a gastroscopy once a year to see whether my reflux has caused any other problems. This involves taking samples of tissue to be examined in a lab.
I enjoy getting out on my bike
Physical exercise is very important to me. I’m not that good about doing it, though. When the weather gets better in the spring and summer months, I do often get on my bike. But I’m not as active in the winter, unfortunately. That’s something I have to improve on. Doing physical exercise makes me feel better.
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Please note: The names of our interview partners have been changed to protect their identity. The photos are of models.