Heartburn appeared pretty much as soon as the cocktail of “pre-meds” wore off (one of which was a dose of Zantac). I felt really good on treatment day (apart from being high as a kite from the Benedryl), and the next day too. Then after a fab dinner of chili, Liam and I went to his Grade 9 Open House where I proceeded to SUFFER.
As a consequence I am now armed with heartburn information and meds. Here are the highlights:
What is heartburn?
It’s often called Acid Reflux. Basically it’s when acid from your stomach that is there to digest your food goes starts to hurt you. Generally speaking, the acid in your stomach splashes up into your esophagus (food tube). There might be too much of it, your stomach might be too full or the muscle that acts as an elastic band between the stomach and esophagus might be too weak.
The official name for it is GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) which is a disease that affects the muscle I was talking about. The official name is the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (there is more than one, sphincter! Ha!). As I mentioned, the LES is between the stomach and esophagus – it’s a band of muscle. GERD can also happen to pregnant women since the LES is more relaxed due to all of the hormones. Also, the baby pushes up against the stomach which drives food up through the LES. (I ate a lot of Tums.) Other folks who have a hiatal hernia can get GERD. That’s where part of the stomach and esophagus get pushed up into the chest wall where it doesn’t belong.
Here’s a diagram that I drew for you (including my recent incisions and my portacath too). It shows you where things are:
Why does heartburn affect people on chemo?
Chemo targets cells that divide at a really fast rate because that’s what cancer cells do, they multiply and take over and wreak havoc in the body. So any other cells in my body that also rapidly divide will be KILLED by the chemo. And the cells in the lining of my stomach and esophagus, which protect my digestive organs from acidic stomach acid are in the list of fast growing cells.
So basically, during chemo any stomach acid in my digestive system is going to hurt me because the protective coating (cells) are being killed off. I don’t have GERD per se, but during chemo I will have the same symptoms as GERD. Make sense?
What can I take for heartburn?
This is interesting! There are 4 different ways to go:
- Tums, Rolaids: These are acid neutralizers that contain calcium and act as a buffer between you and the acid – but they can actually cause more acid to be produced once the barrier is gone (called acid rebound). Use occasionally.
- Gavisgon: This contains alginates (derived from algae) that also act as a barrier (coats the stomach). Very cool. Makes a “raft” and prevents the acid from getting up and out of the stomach. I think I will try the raft.
- Zantac: H2 receptor blockers (such as ratinidine) that reduces the amount of acid from building up but increase the risk of cardiovascular problems and osteoporosis – GAH! And I bought this!
- Nexium, Prevacid: Getting stronger now – prescription strength! These are “Proton Pump Inhibitors” that also prevent acid from forming – they seem to be like Zantac but are stronger, and not for occasional heartburn. These are for people who suffer badly from GERD and their esophagus is getting damaged. Lots of side effects. Avoid avoid!
What can I do to avoid heartburn?
Being a person who likes to avoid taking drugs, I am aiming to prevent heartburn rather than having to take the medications listed above. (Of course I WILL take it if I have to – I’m not into any extra suffering at this point!)
Prevention tips 1 and 2:
- eat smaller amounts at a time
- eat more regularly (this is a LOT harder than it seems)
Most importantly though, I have to stop ingesting:
- caffeinated tea and dark chocolate – ok, anything with caffeine
- wine / alcohol
- oily / fatty foods (don’t even talk to me about this category, I can barely manage the first two)
- tomato based foods
- spicy foods
- garlic & onion
- more good stuff
- more good stuff
- more good stuff
Basically, I’m going to eat BLAND food, very regularly, with lots of water. Oh boy.
What is the silver lining?
Let’s just be clear. When people mention the “silver lining” to a shitty situation, it’s akin to saying “there are plenty of fish in the sea”. Just shut up already. But if I had to pick the silver lining for this one, it’s
Ok I can’t think of one.