I saw a patient the other day who said that her husband was recently hospitalized with severe chest pain. He had been working hard at a start up for several years, with long hours, fast food eaten on the run, late nights and lots of stress. He knew that he had heart burn and swallowed lots of Antacids, but never had the time to get it checked out.
Then one day, the pain in his chest became 10 times worse and he thought that he was having a heart attack. Even though he was uber-busy and stressed out, he felt as if an elephant was crushing his chest and he couldn't ignore it or pretend that it was nothing. As it turned out, he wasn't having a heart attack, but was diagnosed with Barrett's esophagitis, a condition where the lining of the esophagus, (the tube from the mouth to the stomach) had undergone a change in the type of cells on the surface, making him at higher risk of developing cancer.
This patient was lucky, because many people who develop Barrett's esophagitis have no symptoms. Had he continued to ignore his heartburn, he could have been faced with a much different scenario later on, including cancer of the esophagus.
In this case, the amount of acid from the stomach was what caused the severe pain.
As more people are overweight or obese, the number of people with heartburn is increasing. In fact the heartburn medication, Nexium is the 2nd most prescribed medication in the US after Lipitor. There are a number of things to remember with heartburn:
- Try to limit portion sizes so that the stomach doesn't become overfilled
- Try not to lie down after a meal
- If your abdomen measures more than 35" around, it's time to try to drop a few pounds
- Smoking worsens heart burn, so for this and many other reasons, it's a good idea to quit
- Decrease carbonated drinks
- Decrease caffeine
- Avoid high fat foods
The moral of this story is to pay attention to the little signals that your body is sending so that you can nip the big problems in the bud and avoid serious complications. Our bodies are very forgiving and do heal, but we have to give them the chance and not make it too difficult.
Follow me on Twitter@NurseBarbDehn.
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