Living with GERD: I found out I have an incurable digestive disease—here’s how it affects my life

Like the toxic ex that never leaves


By Phyll Wu

Images: Pexels
Living with GERD: I found out I have an incurable digestive disease—here’s how it affects my life

What’s it like living with chronic acid reflux? Here’s how I ended up in the ER twice within two weeks and have been constantly nauseous since.

Two years ago, just a few days before Halloween, my partner and I had a sleepover at our friend’s condo. Nothing was out of the ordinary, we were weekly guests and it was like any other visit. When morning came, we headed out to buy lunch for our friends, returned, and everyone guzzled up their meal while I sat aside with an unusual loss of appetite, feeling a little uneasy. Not wanting to worry anyone, I said nothing and made my way to the bathroom to fix myself up. Five minutes later, I was shivering in a cold sweat and started projectile vomiting clear, yellowish fluid all over the bathroom floor (sorry, Jade!).

One thing led to another, and I found myself in the ER, holding my sixth paper plate to throw up in. “Must’ve eaten something bad,” was what everyone thought, including my doctor. They gave me stomach poisoning medications and I spent the next few days going through countless paper plates in my hospital room, barely eating and feeling terribly nauseous at all times.



To give you an idea of exactly how agonising it was, I was constantly shoving my hands down my throat to throw up, thinking it would possibly ease the unbearable nauseousness—surprise, surprise, it didn’t work. Because the extreme agony kept me awake and unable to relax, I had to be on Xanax to knock me out so my body was forced to rest until it wore off. When I was finally discharged and got home, despite feeling much better, I felt as though something was still not quite right. Less than a week later, I was back in the ER. This round, I had a different doctor.



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Clearly, what I was experiencing wasn’t stomach poisoning, but I never would’ve guessed what it actually was: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), otherwise known as chronic acid reflux. This means that my lower oesophageal sphincter—the ring muscle between the oesophagus and stomach that prevents swallowed food from regurgitating—doesn’t close as it should, allowing the contents in my stomach to flow up into my throat and out my mouth. There’s no single cause of GERD, although factors like an unhealthy lifestyle or pregnancy can likely lead to having it.

Prior to hearing the news from my doctor, I knew nothing about GERD. I was relieved that it wasn’t anything life-threatening, but my relief was abruptly interrupted when I was told that there is no cure. What surprised me even more was finding out that it was triggered by my ADHD and anxiety—I was flabbergasted.



Although my second trip to the ER was my last, my incurable digestive disease continues to plague my life. The good news is, it’s manageable… ish.

With GERD becoming a perpetual inconvenience to my daily life, I haven’t been able to peacefully enjoy certain things like I used to, such as eating. Unless I’m starving, I can no longer finish my food or even have an appetite to eat at times. After a few bites, I’ll start to feel nauseous and will have to take a moment to breathe to avoid throwing up. On top of that, I’m also unable to partake in any intense physical activities like running and walking uphill for longer than a few minutes.

Perhaps the most vexatious part about having GERD is the possibility of ending up in the ER yet again, which is a distressing thought that has lingered in my head since I was diagnosed. But it’s not the misery of having another bad episode that concerns me most—it’s the fact that I would have to put my loved ones through that terrifying experience again. Plus, it’s just embarrassing to be seen projectile vomiting.



Despite there being no cure for GERD, there are ways to prevent it from reoccurring, such as practising a healthier lifestyle and avoiding trigger foods. As the symptoms and causes of GERD varies between patients, treatment methods will vary as well. In severe cases, surgery might be the only option. If you’re like me, whose GERD was caused and is triggered by mental health issues, I urge you to seek professional help from a psychiatrist and/or therapist as soon as you can. But most importantly, whatever the case is, take good care of yourself.

READ: 5 Mental health apps in Malaysia to support you at home and on the go



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