Acid reflux is such a common condition that about 20% of us experience its symptoms at some stage, including a burning sensation that can move from the chest to the throat, regurgitation of sour liquid into the mouth, a night cough, hoarseness and even chest pains.
“One of the first things to realise is that reflux is a normal phenomenon,” says Auckland specialist Michael Booth. He explains that we have a valve – basically, a bundle of muscles, called the lower oesophageal sphincter – at the bottom of our oesophagus that relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow down into the stomach. It’s a routine part of the digestive process for some stomach contents to travel in the opposite direction, into the oesophagus, which detects it and pushes back. Generally, all this happens without us noticing.
However, some people are highly sensitive to even a normal level of reflux. Others have a weakened lower oesophageal sphincter and reflux abnormal amounts of stomach acid, enzymes and even food. Some sufferers are predisposed to the condition because of structural changes such as a hiatus hernia – where part of the stomach protrudes above the diaphragm into the chest, squeezing the stomach contents back up. The bigger the hernia, the more significant their symptoms are likely to be.
Antacids can help relieve the symptoms, as can coating agents such as Gaviscon. But most sufferers take proton-pump inhibitors such as Losec – a drug now available over the counter in New Zealand pharmacies. These relieve symptoms by decreasing the amount of acid produced in the stomach.
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a reflux management system called Linx that uses a ring of titanium beads with a magnetic core to strengthen a weak lower oesophageal sphincter. And in the UK, some National Health Service hospitals are offering Stretta therapy, which involves electrodes firing radiofrequency waves at the valve to strengthen it. Neither of these options is available yet in this country.
Celebrities too are not immune to such disorders. Six out of ten celebrities with severe GERD symptoms chose diet and lifestyle modifications to manage their acid reflux disease. Here are a list of 10 celebrities with diagnosed issues pertaining to acid reflux and indigestion.
10. Jim Palmer
Jim Palmer, former player for the Baltimore Orioles, can be called one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball. He is the only pitcher in Major League history to have pitched a World Series game in each of the three decades he played. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990, and was the only American League Hall of Fame pitcher to win the Cy Young Award three times. Jim Palmer’s days in the spotlight did not come to the end with the conclusion of his baseball career. He has since spent his time as a TV commentator, celebrity spokesperson, and author.
This long list of accomplishments classifies Jim Palmer as a very unique individual, however, he does have one thing in common with millions of other individuals – he has GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). He suffered from frequent and persistent heartburn for many years and thought it was normal. His diagnosis and subsequent treatment was delayed several years until his symptoms worsened and he finally consulted his doctor about it. As the spokesperson for an educational campaign to increase GERD awareness, he has tried to prevent others from making the same mistake he did. The goal is to raise public awareness and understanding about frequent and persistent heartburn associated with GERD.
As part of this campaign, Jim talked to the media and various organizations about his own personal struggle with heartburn associated with GERD. Heartburn associated with GERD occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, or food pipe. Frequent and persistent heartburn on two or more days a week may signal GERD.