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Settle in. This is a fairly long post.
This has not been the greatest month. In the past two weeks, at only 32 years of age, I went from being on zero prescription medications to being on four. And I consider them to be for “old people” ailments, like high blood pressure and acid reflux.
High Blood Pressure Woes
Let’s start with the high blood pressure. The past few times I’ve needed medical care, like for strep throat or for stitches after an unfortunate Thanksgiving Day kitchen knife accident, I’ve just gone to a local urgent care or emergency facility. I never bothered to find a new primary care doctor since moving nearly six years ago!
On some of those occasions at the urgent care facility, they noted that my blood pressure was fairly high, like in the 140/95 range. I never paid much attention and just figured it was because I was nervous to be at the doctor’s office. On one occasion, the doctor recommended that I purchase an at-home blood pressure monitor to see if it would be high at home under normal circumstances. While it was somewhat lower at home, it still fell into the moderate-high range. Then I just kind of forgot about it and put the blood pressure monitor in my closet and didn’t really think about it much any more. At one of those urgent care visits, one physician told me that I should not underestimate the benefit that losing just ten pounds would have on my blood pressure. That losing weight would far benefit my blood pressure more than any low sodium diet. I always just figured I would lose weight and that would help lower my blood pressure, but I never lost any weight.
Last month, I randomly convinced myself that I had a kidney infection (Thanks Doctor Google!). My side was kind of hurting and I had a low grade fever. I went to the urgent care facility again, where my blood pressure reading this time was 165/100!
I was told that I was at risk for all sorts of nasty health effects and needed to be started on prescription medication. I pleaded, saying that I was too young, but the doctor told me that you’re never too young to have an aneurysm. Umm, thanks. Time to start me on high blood pressure meds. In addition to treating my infection, the Urgent Care doctor wrote me a prescription for Norvasc, a high blood pressure medication. It was a 30 day supply, with stern instructions to finally find a primary care doctor for ongoing treatment. He also ordered some bloodwork, to make sure there was no underlying cause of the hypertension. Luckily, the bloodwork results were all normal.
I made an appointment for a physical with a nearby medical practice. It was three weeks after starting Norvasc, so I assumed that my blood pressure reading would be down in the normal range. It was only a few points (points? Is that what they’re called?) lower, at 162/99. So my new primary care doctor added Hydrochlorothiazide, which I would take in addition to the Norvasc. She took additional bloodwork, and told me to come back in three weeks for more bloodwork to ensure that the Hydrochlorothiazide wasn’t affecting my kidneys negatively (apparently a known side effect). She also told me to record my blood pressure every day from home.
So, that’s where we stand now. I’m not liking Hydrochlorothiazide much because, despite taking it in the mornings, I’m waking up at least twice per night to go pee. Not cool.
Because of my high blood pressure and relative unhappiness with my medication, I’m starting to think I should get more serious about improving my diet and losing weight.
And, speaking of diet changes …
Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR) Diagnosis
Completely independent of my infection and high blood pressure issue, I finally decided to see an ENT specialist for this annoying and persistent throat clearing cough I’ve had for at least five or six years. I’ve mentioned it in passing to previous doctors, who recommended Claritin and a Over-the-Counter saline nasal spray. Those recommended remedies never worked, so I assumed I would be stuck with clearing my throat every 20 minutes for the rest of my life.
About two years ago, I went to a nearby ENT practice because my ear was really clogged. I mentioned the throat clearing issue to them and they said that when I was ready, I could make an appointment to have a camera put down my throat so they could examine and diagnose me more effectively.
Well, the thought of A CAMERA GOING DOWN MY THROAT WHILE I WAS AWAKE did not sound appealing, so I put off making the follow up appointment. But one night a few weeks ago, after spending like five minutes futilely trying to clear my throat, I decided then and there that I would make an appointment with the ENT. I called the next morning.
Well, the ENT appointment was very illuminating. I described my chronic throat clearing, and after many many follow up questions, he said he was going to use a thin tube-like camera that would go up my nose and into my throat. I told him I was nervous, and I’m glad I did. While he was maneuvering the camera, he was very reassuring saying things like, “You’re doing great,” and “We’re just about done.”
The entire procedure was MUCH easier than I expected. No gagging, no pain. A pap smear or one of those terrible swab tests for strep throat are actually much worse on the discomfort level. And it probably took less than 20 seconds.
While the camera was in my throat, he kind of poked at a particular area with the tube. He said, “Is this where you throat feels scratchy?” I enthusiastically said, “YES!” and he pulled out the tube.
The doctor told me he could see the irritation, and what I had was actually a type of acid reflux called laryngopharyngeal reflux, or LPR. I was a little confused. While I might get some very occasional heartburn once every few months after a heavy meal or something, I certainly didn’t consider myself to be someone that had acid reflux. He told me that LPR can sometimes cause heartburn, but not always.
He prescribed me medication for Omeprazole, which is an acid reflux medication also known as Prilosec, as well as a prescription for Flonase because he said my nose was also very congested (which is its own interesting story deserving of a separate post). He left the exam room and came back with an informational pamphlet about LPR, including a list of foods to avoid. As he read them off, “Cheese, wine, chocolate, eggs, dairy …” I interrupted him. I said, “You do realize that you’re listing every food I eat, right?” He chuckled and told me that in clinical studies, LPR sufferers who adopt diet changes actually fare better at eliminating LPR symptoms than those who are just prescribed medication without adopting diet changes. He also told me how important it was not to lay down within three hours of eating.
It’s been 9 days since starting Omeprazole, and the jury is still out on whether my cough is improving. I think it’s better, but I’m still experiencing some throat clearing issues.
Setting Healthy Eating Goals
Thanks Melissa, great stories. Can you get to some sort of point now?
Yes, here’s the point. I’m going to make a concerted effort to improve my diet. In order to A) Get to a point where I can lower my blood pressure naturally and don’t have to take stupid prescription medications, and B) Improve my LPR symptoms without having to stay on acid reflux medicines long term.
Back in 2004, I managed to lose 40 pounds on Weight Watchers. By 2008, I had regained all that weight and am now even heavier than what I was then. So, I know I CAN lose weight. And I have made a few efforts, but constantly fail. It’s disheartening. But, it’s also disheartening to be only 32 years old and now be on multiple prescription medications for ailments that can easily be treated by diet changes.
I’m a firm believer that diets don’t have to be ridiculously complicated. Your calories consumed should be less than calories burned. And with that, you have weight loss. So I think eating even rich foods, as long as they’re within your caloric limit, can lead to weight loss.
But my problem is that I really like to cook, and the foods I make are really delicious. So, because they’re so yummy, I have a difficult time with portion control. Why would I want to stop eating such a great meal? Ridiculous, I know.
I’ve been looking around, and I think I might try some experimentation with the Mayo Clinic’s DASH Diet. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Since hypertension seems to be my primary health issue these days, it seems like a good start. And it’s not some fad-like diet. It’s actually endorsed by the National Institutes of Health and the Mayo Clinic. With the exception of the dairy requirement in the DASH diet, it also seems to be pretty compatible with the dietary restrictions for lessening my LPR symptoms.
It’s a little difficult to find consolidated information on the DASH diet. There’s no single resource website for it like WeightWatchers or anything. So, it’s been a challenge consolidating and parsing all of the information that’s out there.
So, there you have it. Perhaps making a commitment to eating better just 11 days prior to Thanksgiving isn’t the greatest idea, but I figure if I can make it through the holidays, I can make it any time!