After years of losing sleep, woman finds relief for chronic heartburn

A few years ago, Susan Boswell, of LaGrange, Georgia, says she was sleep-starved and feeling terrible.

"I was waking up at night," Boswell says. "I wasn't getting good sleep. I was having sore throat, dry cough. I would choke at night, and it would wake me up, and I'd be up for 30 to 45 minutes coughing, and trying to clear up, where acid would come out of my stomach and into my throat."

Boswell says she got by on over-the-counter antacids.

"I slept with a bottle of Tums by the bed," she says.  "I just couldn't keep dealing with it."

So, Boswell, who is now 52, came to see Wellstar Health System gastroenterologist Dr. Cameron Body.

"They did an endoscopy on me, and I did have GERD," Boswell says.

Dr. Body says GERD is gastroesophageal reflux disease.

"It's literally gastric contents coming up into the esophagus, and the esophagus is not made for that," Dr. Body says.

Over time, Dr. Body says, if acid reflux is not treated, the backup can damage the esophagus, causing the tube that passes food from the mouth to the stomach to become narrow and scarred.

"And, that can make it very difficult to swallow, and food can get stuck," she says.  "Having long term reflux is a risk factor for certain types of esophageal cancer.  The cells of the esophagus actually change in response to this chronic reflux called Barrett's esophagus.

Dr. Body got Boswell on a prescription medication to reduce the amount of acid her stomach was producing.

At first, Boswell thought the pills would be all she needed.

""I was, like, 'Now I can eat whatever I want, like I always have, and take this pill and be fine!"

But, Boswell quickly realized she was not fine.  

The burning sensation continued, and she still could not sleep through the night.

"Plus, I was overweight, and overeating, and eating the wrong food," she says.

Together Dr. Body and Boswell tackled some lifestyle changes.

Boswell dramatically cut back on foods that can trigger her acid reflux, like chocolate, fried foods and spicy dishes.

Body also recommends her acid reflux patients wait at least a couple of hours after meals before going to bed, and she encourages them to sleep with their head elevated by about 6 to 10 inches.

Being overweight or obese can also raise your risk of GERD, she says.

So, Body helped Boswell get on a weight loss plan, in which she cut back on starches, sugar and processed foods.

Once she did that, the weight started coming off, and she started feeling better.  

"I've lost, like 48 pounds, almost 50 pounds, in the last two years," she says.

Today, Susan Boswell sleeps through the night, no more burning feeling.

"The only thing that wakes me up now at night is my little dog Avery,' she says.  "He's a 4 pound Yorkie, and he can't jump down off the bed. So, he wakes me up sometimes to get down."

She says she feels better at 52 than she has felt in years.

"I'm able to wake up refreshed and stay awake all day long," Boswell says.