Tag Archives: psychosomatic

GERD and Stress

[This entry is about a health condition which causes some distasteful and potentially disturbing effects. Apologies in advance for the details!]

Been suffering from GERD (“gastroesophageal reflux disease” or “acid reflux”) for about ten years at this point. Heartburns are a fairly big part of it but there are other symptoms, especially after a lot of reflux episodes. GERD is very common. But it's not frequently discussed. Perhaps because its symptoms are so repelling and are unlikely to be mentioned in polite company.
GERD is easily treated, including by surgery. Haven't had surgery myself. At one point, my condition was bad enough that we feared it might lead to cancer. Things have gotten a lot better since then.
Overall, my condition has been quite stable for a long while (thanks to some well-known medication). There are days however, like today, during which things aren't as good. Not because of pain. It can be quite painful at times (like when you get a horizontal bar of pain in your back). But it's also causing a generally displeasing overall state. Had a rather acute episode today. Woke up with almost a mouthful of acidic bile. And there wasn't anything special from the past day which might have led me to expect this episode (like eating before going to bed or sleeping in too horizontal a position). But it hurt and the effects are still with me, ten hours after waking up.
One thing about GERD, for me, is that it stresses me out. And vice-versa: stress is likely to cause a reflux episode in me. It's quite annoying but it's also potentially damaging. A seemingly simple situation may become a big problem under GERD symptoms and too high a level of stress and acid reflux is likely to change my mood. It's not at all like hypochondria, AFAIK, but it's a psychosomatic connection between mental state and physical condition. It's no less real than any other physical condition or mental state, but there's a clear connection between the two.
The upshot is that stress has become a known state to me. In my experience, and it really does seem to make sense, it has little to do with having a lot to do or even with being in a hurry. But it does have to do with situations of “double-bind” in which you feel trapped. Those types of “darned if you do, darned if you don't” situations we all know on occasion. For me, it's difficult to think straight during GERD episodes. And stress caused by double-bind situations will likely generate an acid reflux episode in me. Kind of a vicious circle. It's easier if the source is physical (if the GERD starts the pattern) as it's then possible for me to convince myself that things are fine and it's best to just wait for the GERD symptoms to pass. But it's still very inconvenient.
Another aspect of GERD, which can be especially “gross,” is that it's often associated with IBS or “irritable bowel syndrome.” Not that they're intimately linked but with GERD, IBS symptoms are frequent. Haven't had IBS diagnosed in my case but it does sound as if it were the same symptoms. In such situations where IBS is apparently caused by my GERD, it's an overall uneasy feeling which is tolerable but quite annoying. Ah, well…

Life is still good.

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