THURSDAY, Jan. 5 (HealthDay News) -- Susan Schneck began suffering from frequent, painful heartburn in 1998.
"In the evening and especially after lying down to go to sleep, I would invariably experience heartburn," Schneck said. "It was a burning. Not exactly nausea, but that same type of upward sensation, only with that burning. Like you'd had a hot drink or really, really spicy food. And once it started, it wouldn't go away."
It never occurred to Schneck, now 37 and living in Madison, Wis., to go to a doctor for treatment. "I kind of knew, 'Oh, it's heartburn.' It never occurred to me it could be something worse," she said. "It also never occurred to me it could be something I could fix."
Instead, she dealt with the problem by chewing antacid tablets. "I'd never done anything but take Tums," she said. "I took two Tums a day, at least. Pretty much every day I experienced symptoms, and every day I had to take Tums for them."
This went on until 2004, when she was working at a hospital in North Carolina and saw that a clinical trial was being offered that involved an endoscopic evaluation. The trial was looking for people with chronic heartburn to test them for Barrett's esophagus, a potential side effect of gastroesophageal reflux disease that can lead to cancer.
"I realized, 'Geez, I shouldn't have let this go untreated for so long,'" Schneck recalled.
Schneck had the endoscopy, and the researchers found no severe damage. However, they told her that if she was experiencing heartburn as often as she reported, she needed medical treatment.
"I just went to my primary care doctor and told her what I'd been told," Schneck said. "She put me on a two-week trial of Nexium (a proton pump inhibitor), and it was amazing. I had relief from the first pill on. I didn't have heartburn that afternoon, for the first time in I don't know how long."
Schneck also started working on her weight. She weighed more than 260 pounds when she began experiencing symptoms, and by 2008 she was up to 280 pounds. After her mother and sister were diagnosed with diabetes, she decided to try to drop some pounds to decrease her risk for the disease.
Weight loss, she discovered, had the added benefit of relieving her acid reflux, too. "As soon as I lost the first 50 pounds, my symptoms really started going down," Schneck said. By 2009, she was able to stop taking medication.
"I would say I'm symptom-free now, all but maybe one day a month," she said.
Her advice for anyone suffering from GERD as she did? "Get help."
"I can't believe I suffered from that every day for so long and never thought it was something worth treating, worth going to the doctor for," she said.
A companion article has more details on GERD.