Health & Medical Senior Stories

Me and My Gerd

The medical events you will read about started 15 years ago, when I used to drive home from work with a pain in my chest. Being the usual macho male, I ignored them until the event became so regular and the pain was so intense, I thought I better seek medical help. I thought sure it was the stress of the job and I should seek other employment.

Instead I went to a Cardiologist and had an EKG. He scratched his head and proclaimed it was inconclusive as to what the problem was and wrote a prescription for Tenormin to regulate my blood pressure. He sent me to another specialist who had me wear a portable EKG machine for 24 hours to see if it clarified the situation. It didn’t. I decided to cut back on the coffee I was drinking and I switched to tea. Over the next three months my symptoms disappeared and I dropped the blood pressure pills. The whole episode cost my medical insurance company about $5,000 dollars.

Five years later, I pigged out at a Swedish buffet and finished the meal with a large portion of Mocha Chocolate Cake (double caffeine whammy!) and Tea. That night at bedtime, I was dizzy, was sweating and had pain in the chest. This is it! I was about to have a heart attack.

My wife drove me to Northwest Community Hospital that provided me the attention I always wanted and never got. They were really nice and ran a myriad of tests including a thallium heart scan while I jogged on a treadmill. After 24 hours with one specialist after another visiting me and I reciting my medical history, they pronounced me to be in good health and told me to go see an Internist.

My heart was sound. A few days later, the Internist after examination said he didn’t know what caused my problem but he offered to give me samples of a new blood pressure medication called Accupril as a precaution. I would have to have a liver test monthly if I went on these pills. They were the product of Research and Development by a major pharmaceutical company and had to be good. I never understood why the doctor didn’t question the need to test monthly for liver problems. I declined and he took back his samples. Another $4,000 was spent and I still did not have an answer.

THE FIRST INTELLIGENT DOCTOR

On my next vacation to Arizona, I made an appointment with a Mayo physician and brought along all the medical reports from my last episode. We sat down and for 10 minutes he examined the medical reports. He looked up and said I’m 95% positive you have Gerd. What is Gerd? GastroEsophagealRefluxDisease. After a ten-minute discussion I walked out knowing he was right. This was the first intelligent physician I have met.

The cause is the caffeine in the coffee and the tea. It is a weak smooth muscle relaxer and causes the sphincter valve between the esophagus and stomach to relax and open just enough to allow stomach acid to enter the esophagus and burn the lining causing a pain that mimics pain from the heart. Caffeine is a member of the theophylline family of chemicals, which is also found in chocolate. People with asthma that are prescribed TheoDur, a brand of theophylline for relaxing the smooth muscle in the lungs also have a high tendency to develop Gerd. My wife had the privilege of experiencing this problem.

Now we know, it was my habit of excess caffeine consumption that caused my medical bill to come to almost $10,000 for the privilege of having that lift.

When I was 12, there was a discussion between my 12-year-old peers about the effect of drinking a coke and taking an aspirin at the same time and how you would feel. Some thought it was like drinking a beer. Most of us were too scared to try, since we didn’t have TV ads telling us how drugs can be good for you to influence our decision.

Today, TV ads at Christmas Time show Dad with his 6-year-old son admiring a Coca-Cola Truck drive by all decked out with Christmas lights and Holly delivering another load of Coke to a food store, a school or a hospital. It’s affirmative recognition that drinking a Coke is good for you.

ADS REALLY PROBLEM OF CAFFEINE

I often see babies and toddlers walking around with a can of coke that their mother has given to them without any understanding that in the long run the caffeine is going to effect their child’s health in one manner or another that is not healthy. I wonder how much of the ADS (Attention Deficit Syndrome) problem is really a combination of poor parenting and caffeine usage in our children? Don’t expect the Ritalin folks to ever admit to this as the cause.

If you go to a fast food restaurant or any other for that matter, there isn’t any information as to how much caffeine or other ingredients are in that glass of pop. Aspartame (Equal) in diet drinks is a whole can of worms on it’s own. When Coca-Cola bought Barq’s Root Beer, the first thing they did was to put caffeine in it. I wonder how many mothers are giving their children Barq’s Root Beer and thinking they are keeping them out of Harm’s way? If McDonald’s had any guts they would tell their customers how much Caffeine is in each of the different drinks they sell.

The answer to GERD can be changing your nutritional habits, or you can take a proton pump inhibitor. Many can’t give up the coffee or tea habit, or coke or pepsi habit. Consequently they start taking Prevacid, Nexium, Prelosic or another one of those expensive medications.

I attended a Pharmacy CE a few years back sponsored by Prevacid and the Head of the GastroEnterology Department proclaimed that his treatment routine was to give a double dose of 30 mg of Prevacid twice a day to his patients, because he didn’t want to see them again. The Prevacid folks were thrilled with his attitude. I’m sure he got an honorarium for lecturing to the pharmacists that day.

Lack of stomach acid has a downside. Digestion is inhibited and you may not get the nutritional intake you should. Also, stomach acid destroys pathogens that cause food poisonings. The likelihood that you will have a severe case of food poisoning goes up dramatically. My wife who can’t do without Prevacid has had two severe episodes in the last several years.

Water can be a great aid to reducing stomach acid by flushing the acid through the GI tract and reducing the reflux condition from occurring. Many women drink too little water because they think they will gain weight this way. The opposite is true and 6 to 8 glasses of water a day keeps you hydrated. Women who don’t drink enough water also experience reoccurring Urinary Tract Infections. Obesity is also a problem and complicates the reflux condition by having extra pressure put on the stomach.

Much can be done besides the use of pills to control GERD. The real concern is the wide spread consumption of caffeine drinks in this society from very young to very old. I hope some day some one will have the courage to put a number to how much of the medical costs incurred by the American society can be avoided with a judicious use of caffeine.

I don’t believe you can eliminate the use but you sure should be aware of the consequences. I also don’t believe our schools or hospitals or medical facilities should be selling the caffeine drinks. When will we have leadership in our medical community to change what is happening?

T. Braun, Pharmacist, Buyer, Marketing Executive for a Major Drug Chain. Active for over 45 years in Pharmacy.

Legal Stuff: Disclaimer – This document is informational in nature. Medical advice should be secured through your physician.

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