My GERD Opinion
Okay, this is my opinion on how to banish GERD, and I hereby disclaim it as any recommendation, so I don’t get sued, but it worked for me. So far. I’ll let you know if I die of “Barrett’s esophagus” turning into cancer, but meanwhile….
Over years of my chronic coughing and throat-clearing, a-hemming and hawking at the breakfast table and in public places, my wife begged me (“I can’t stand it!”) to seek medical help, while I chewed my antacids in sullen defiance.
As noted in the accompanying article, “Heartburn Help,” I did go to the doc and get the endoscopy and then went through Axid, then Prilosec, and then I tried Propulsid, which supposedly enhances the peristalsis that moves food downward. One side result of this, it seemed to me, it also ramped up the “movement,” if I may put it so delicately, of the eliminatory system. Good heavens, I thought, this drug has a perceptible physical effect beyond its curative effect. And, as I move rapidly toward my dotage, will this be just the first of other continuously required drugs (blood pressure, etc.) that will be layered on top of it? Wouldn’t it be nice if, at least for now, I could go drug free?
I recalled a conversation over dinner one time with a guy named Larry who asserted that in the olden days it was common for people to sleep sitting up. I scoffed rudely at his assertion, what? How can you sleep sitting up? Nah, you’re making that up. No, he said, that’s why a lot of beds were shorter in those days, not because people were shorter, and a lot of them had more functional footboards that kept you from sliding down from the upright position.
Turns out, when you do the research (surfing the web for “sleeping upright history” was my cheesy version of “research”), yeah, back in the 1600s and whatnot it was more common. And, it occurred to me, even with Axid and Prilosec and Propulsid, yeah, you may be cutting the acid and volume of stomach acid, but you still have up-trickle. At least I did. The puke-juice, acidic or not, still keeps trickling up the pipe, resulting in the sleep-disrupting need to keep swallowing and in the morning ritual of throat-clearing and coughing.
So I canned the drugs and started sleeping upright. The result was no more heartburn AND no more up-trickle. You don’t have to literally sleep upright, of course, just sleep at an angle, an upward angle. You have to work out your own combination of pillows or other props, and of course you can set a good foundation with those products that give you some kind of big soft wedge or other propping to keep you tilted up. To keep from sliding down (and giving yourself a wedgie), you just don’t tuck the covers in at the bottom of the bed. Just raise your feet up and flip the blankets under them, maybe roll sideways back and forth to get some blanket under the edge of you. Or get a foot board, whatever. Work out your own system, but it works for me.
Of course, one does have to take a bit of ribbing from friends who see your pile of bedding and make jokes about how it looks like a Pasha on a pile of silken pillows. And it does take some attitude adjustment from your bed partner, who has to get used to looking up at you over a wall of pillows.
One result of that upright posture, of course, may be shoulder pain. People who have strokes sometimes suffer shoulder pain, because the failure of muscles in that part of the body put all the weight of the arms on the rotator cuff. Over time, that can result in chronic shoulder pain. If you’re sleeping at an angle where you are propped up from behind, your shoulders may be, in effect, hanging with stress on the rotator cuff when your shoulder muscles relax during sleep.
From personal experience I can say that one thing you will have to consider, when sleeping upright, is to make sure that your shoulders are supported. Pillows behind you may stay in place from your weight, but pillows on the side under your arms and shoulders can easily slide away during the night. Again, you can find out what works for you for shoulder support, but there are a few things out there like the “boomerang pillow” and the “L pillow” that can fortify support from the side.