In this high-stress world, you probably know someone who suffers from G.E.R.D. (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). “Gastro-“ refers to your stomach; “-esophageal” refers to the tube that runs from it to your throat. Acid “reflux” is essentially acid that escapes the stomach and can go all the way up to your throat. G.E.R.D. is a severe form of acid reflux that can ruin a person’s quality of life.
Normally, an area called the “lower esophageal sphincter” (LES) is what separates the contents of the very acidic stomach from entering the esophagus. In G.E.R.D., the LES allows food to enter the stomach but fails to close tightly enough to keep juices from going back up, causing what we call “heartburn” and other symptoms.
Up to 20 per cent of the U.S. population suffers from some form of G.E.R.D., which means that it’s likely that the medic will eventually encounter this issue in a remote setting or survival scenario. Off the grid, we won’t have the stress that goes with the modern rat race, but there will be more basic issues just as concerning like “where’s my next meal coming from?”.
G.E.R.D. may occur in those with a “hiatal hernia”. This condition occurs when the top of the stomach moves up through a weak area in the diaphragm (the muscle that separates chest from abdomen and helps you breathe). As such, acid can more easily leave the stomach.
Although the stomach has a lining that can handle acidic environments, the esophagus becomes inflamed when exposed to too much. The lining becomes weakened and can erode, a condition known as an “ulcer”. Ulcers can occur in the esophagus, stomach, and upper part of the small intestine.
To make the diagnosis of ulcer or acid reflux disease as opposed to, say, chest pain from heart issues, the timing of the discomfort is important. Ulcer and acid reflux discomfort occurs soon after eating but is sometimes seen several hours after a meal. It can be differentiated from other causes of chest pain in another way: it gets better by drinking milk or taking antacids. As you can imagine, this wouldn’t do much for heart problems. Also, it often worsens when lying down or eating acidic foods. In the worse cases, such as with ulcers, blackish stools may be seen or vomiting may occur that looks like coffee grounds. This is a sign of bleeding high up in the GI tract.
Certain lifestyle changes are often helpful for people with G.E.R.D. Eating smaller meals (say, 5 a day) and avoiding acidic foods before bedtime may help prevent reflux. Give your stomach at least 3 hours to empty before you lie down or add a pillow or two behind your shoulders, head, and neck.
You would think chewing gum would increase stomach acid; chewing gum, however, produces saliva: Saliva acts to buffer acid. Also, you swallow the saliva, which might force some of that acid further down the esophagus.
Spicy foods may worsen G.E.R.D. (image by pixabay)
Your patient may benefit from avoiding certain foods. These commonly include:
Acidic fruit (for example, oranges or other citrus)
Medicines like aspirin, ibuprofen, and others may also cause stomach issues. As well, smoking is thought to worsen G.E.R.D.
One thing about milk: although it may be helpful as a treatment, avoid regular milk intake and stick with low-fat, as high levels of fat ingestion may actually increase stomach acid. Obese individuals seem to suffer more from this problem: Excess abdominal fat can press against the stomach, forcing acids up into the esophagus. Weight loss may help, something that’s likely in survival scenarios.
Medications that commonly relieve acid reflux include calcium, magnesium, aluminum, and bismuth antacids such as Tums, Maalox, Mylanta or Pepto-Bismol, as well as other medications such as Ranitidine (Zantac), Cimetidine (Tagamet), and Omeprazole (Prilosec). These medications are available in non-prescription strength and are easy to accumulate in quantity.
In modern times, G.E.R.D. can be definitively identified by procedures such as upper G.I. endoscopy, X-ray tests like an upper GI series, and other high technology. Of course, off the grid, these aren’t an option.
There are many alternative remedies reported to be helpful to deal with G.E.R.D. Home remedies for acid reflux include:
–Organic apple cider vinegar: Mix one tablespoon in four ounces of water, drink before each meal.
–Aloe Vera juice: Mix one ounce in two ounces of water before a meal.
–Baking soda: Mix one tablespoon in a glass of water and drink right away when you begin to feel heartburn
–Glutamine: An amino acid that has an anti-inflammatory effect and reduces acid reflux. It can be found in milk and eggs.
–Melatonin might be useful for some (more study is needed on this one).
I’m sure you have some home remedies of your own.
Off the grid, many stoic individuals in the preparedness community may be unlikely to tell the medic about something they consider trivial, like heartburn. Someone in pain, however, loses sleep and work efficiency. Always question these people to find out what their symptoms are. You might be able to help.