The medical drama continues. Sort of. Except now it looks like we’ve started to find out what’s going on with me. In short, it looks like my gallbladder isn’t working right. Not gallstones, mind you — that came out perfectly clean — but rather that the muscle isn’t squeezing like it should. (It might explain why I sometimes feel a horrible back “pain” (bloating?) in my middle back after eating, like if I’m having a really bad spasm. As it turns out, lazy gallbladder is also a precursor to gallstones, which run in my family.) Luckily, the doc pretty much discounted the possibility of gastroparesis, which is great. I’ve been reading horror stories left and right about that and scaring myself into the next life. (The people in the Yahoo Gastroparesis group are constantly in my prayers.) I’m still waiting on a few tests to verify that diagnosis, however. Anyway, that seems to be, in large part, the cause of all my recent heartburn troubles, all of which are getting better.
So what am I doing to fix my digestive system? A lot, actually, and I’ll be doing more.
First and foremost, medication: I’m currently on Prevacid, 30mg, once per day. While the medication seems to be doing what it’s supposed to be doing (calming down my heartburn, fixing my system), it’s also showing one very interesting, very negative side effect. It’s really, really expensive: around US$6 per pill. Ouch. Luckily, I have insurance, which means it goes from $6 to $5 a pill. Awesome, right?
To get around paying hundreds of dollars a month to save my esophagus, I’ve started to investigate buying medications from online from Canada. Risky, I know. But my research has taken me to the American Association of Retired Persons’s (AARP) website, which helped me find pharmacies and consumer groups they recommend for safe medications. That led me to PharmacyChecker.com, a site designed to help people find reliable, safe online pharmacies that ship to the US. Through them I was able to find a pharmacy that sold Prevacid’s generic cousin, Lansoprazole, for about 1/3 the price, or $2 per pill. (It should be noted that Prevacid is sold for as low as $1.50 per pill outside the US, and generics can be under a dollar. Now, if the difference between the cost outside and the cost here was less than FOUR FREAKING DOLLARS PER PILL, I wouldn’t mind paying the extra amount. Really, I mean, these guys did the research, they deserve to make some money. Just not by price gouging.) Mind you, cheaper isn’t necessarily better, and you have to read the customer reviews to ensure that you’re picking one that won’t take forever and a half to get you your meds. That’s why I chose to pay $2 per pill — including shipping — instead of $1, for now. Still, if you keep on top of things you’ll generally be pleased.
For the record, I received my pills over the mail a few days ago. They’re made by a company out of the UK, owned by an Israeli company. (From what I’ve read, Lansoprazole is only available in generic form in a few places, including the UK.) I started taking it last night. Let’s see how these work out. After taking them this morning (third dose) I found myself feeling pretty itchy in the stomach area (front and back), something that didn’t happen with Prevacid. Maybe it was a one-time thing.
Outside of the drugs, I’m also using a few supplements which I’m hoping will help both speed up the process and, more importantly, keep me healthier in the long run.
NOTE: The products I mention here are all linked to iHerb.com, which is where I get my stuff. If you decide to buy any of this stuff, use the referral code NOR434, which will save you $5 on your first order. (Disclaimer: I’ll also get a 2% kickback. It’s a win/win! Though I mostly did this because of the $5 savings because, let’s face it, 2% likely won’t be all that much, unless someone decides to spend $10,000 on stuff.)
For starters, I’ve started taking Deglyicyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL) (say THAT 3 times fast). Licorice has long been used to help ease stomach inflammation and DGL takes away the component of licorice responsible for high blood pressure, something I also have to keep a close eye on. Frankly, I hate the taste of licorice, but this stuff has helped out some. I first heard about it by reading Dr. Andrew Weil’s website.
In addition, I’ve also been taking Triphala, an Indian mixture of fruits which are known for helping gastrointestinal function. (FYI: The item linked is recommended, by name, by Dr. Andrew Weil, mostly because they actually standardize on the amount of tannin in the mix.)
Finally, I’ve been taking Natural Factors Liv-Gall Cleanse, which is designed to help liver and gallbladder function. It’s made from milk thistle, turmeric (which I also consume fair amounts of daily on my salads), dandelion and artichoke leaf. I just started using this so I can’t yet comment on its effectiveness. However, I have been feeling very good over the past few days.
Note that this is in addition to the stuff I was taking before.
One thing Ie noticed: I was on a very, VERY bland diet for the past two weeks or so (buckwheat cereal and almond milk, mostly) and when I started returning to more normal foods, I found myself getting some of the heartburn symptoms back. I’m not sure if it was because I was reintroducing foods, or due to the types of foods I’m reintroducing. In any case, after a few “breakthrough” days (when I had to take double-doses of Lansoprazole), everything returned to normal and now I’m feeling great eating the foods I knew to be safe before: vegetables, fruits, fish, and soy. I’m still uneasy about deserts (soy ice cream has caused some trouble recently, as has soy yogurt).
Also, looking for information online yielded the following, from Answers at Yahoo! Canada: “Yogic asanas which are beneficial in toning up the liver and gallbladder are: sarvangasana, paschimottanasana, shalabhasana, dhanurasana, and bhujangasana . . . Water Treatment: Regular applications of hot and cold fomentations to the abdomen improve the circulation of the liver and gallbladder. They also induce concentrations of the gallbladder, thereby improving the flow of bile. A cold hipbath improves the general abdominal tone . . . Exercise is essential as physical inactivity can lead to lazy gallbladder type indigestion which may ultimately result in the formation of stones.” In addition to the medication, I’ve also started doing some yoga in the mornings. I’ll slowly begin introducing the rest of these recommendations.
The end result’s been that using all of this stuff, one month after I started therapy I’m felling much, much better. I’m no longer in constant pain, I can eat just about anything (except for fried or very fatty foods), and am feeling better than I have in a long time (except for the odd joint/muscle pain here and there, something I need to investigate). I feel human again.
Here’s an interesting lesson I’ve also learned: you know how people always say things like “wow, you’re so courageous to be battling this chronic disease!” every time someone’s battling with something like cancer or ALS? For a long time I’ve always thought “you know, it’s not a matter of courage. They’re battling for their lives!” After going through what I did with this — months of constant pain, inability to eat, inability to sleep, dizziness, nausea, weakness, anxiety, depression, etc. since the gallbladder issue led to GERD, gastritis, esophagitis, and eventually some malnutrition — and after reading the emails from the Yahoo Gatroparesis group, I finally understand WHY it takes courage to go through a chronic illness: because when things get really bad in life the alternative starts looking really, really good. I salute all those who choose to continue living, even when it’s an every day battle.