That Burning Ring of Fire

For those of you who have known me long enough, you may know that I, like my father (from whom I inherited it, and can forever thank) suffer with a "condition" that I have lived with, and dealt with my whole life. It does not affect me every day, but when it hits, it hits hard.
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When I was younger I would call it "food stuck in my throat". I later called it "getting hung up". I grew up watching my dad suffer through his attacks. He would sit at the table, not finish eating, frequently writhe in pain and then after a while would have to get up from the table, and use the bathroom to do whatever he does to try and halt the attack.
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The pain can be excruciating, and is debilitating. At it's worst, trying to do ANYTHING is next to impossible. I want to claw open my chest cavity to relieve the pressure. It feels like the area just beneath your sternum is going to explode. It burns, and contracts with waves of pain and then relief, pain and then relief again. This can go on for hours. I turn pale, and sweat - not just "glistening" sweat, but "beads of water running down my face", and "wet hair" sweat. I would say my "average" attack lasts somewhere between 60-90 minutes.
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I never really knew what this "officially" was until it hospitalized my father, and he was diagnosed and treated for it.
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What is this horrible condition? It is called several things. Like I said, I call it "getting hung up", I have heard it called "steakhouse syndrome", but is officially known as a Schatzki's Ring. What is a Schatzki's Ring? Well, long story short... A Schatzki's Ring is a fibrous muscular ring that sits at the top of the stomach where the esophagus attaches. It will at times constrict, causing a partial or full blockage of the esophagus, sometimes catching and holding food in it's clutches, and other times just causing enough blockage to create a problem. Thankfully I have never had a problem with food getting caught in the ring, or had a full blockage. My problem comes from eating food that is too dry, or not having enough fluids with my meal. If whatever goes down my throat is not "slipery" enough, it will irritate my Schatzki's Ring, and cause it to start to constrict. Mixed nuts, Peanut butter, and anything "pasty" will almost always bring on an episode. I have also found that some foods can irritate the ring, and bring on the contractions. Acid in a lot of fresh fruits frequently bring on an episode. As long as I have had something to eat just before and have a little something after fruit, it's not too bad. Strong alcoholic drinks will also cause my Schatzki's Ring to constrict. I have to eat something with, or mix my drinks weaker. Shots will frequently cause me problems. As long as it's just liquid I am ingesting, it's not too bad, but when I am eating, and the ring constricts, my esophagus will then constrict in waves trying to push the food into the stomach, against the already constricted Schatzki's ring. Picture (if you will) the act of milking a cow - only at the bottom of the utter, there is no opening. You just keep starting at the top, and squeezing downward trying to squeeze out whatever is there, and having no where to go.
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I consider myself lucky. I am fortunate in that I can actually start to feel the ring constrict, and I have (over the years) discovered methods to minimize, reduce or even sometimes eliminate the condition from the first signs of symptoms. When this happens, I have about 30 seconds to "force" whatever is in my esophagus down before the ring tightens. This is done by drinking a large amount of fluid - hard and fast! It HURTS LIKE HELL when I do it, and sometimes I have to swallow (the same fluid) two or three times as it will not always go down (due to the partial blockage), but eventually I can use fluid pressure (much like a toilet plunger) to force whatever is in my esophagus down into my stomach before the ring is too tight. Then as my esophagus contracts against the ring, there is no food present to cause any significant pressure, and the pain is noticeably reduced. With food present, I would put the pain a 7 of 10. With an empty esophagus the pain is about a 3 out of 10, and I can usually still just go about my daily business. (It's more like a bad case of heartburn.)
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I have for years teased my dad about how "not a big deal" this is, and how he needs to learn how to just gulp fluids until it has cleared itself. He tells me that he cant do that, and how he needs to just sit, relax and let it work itself out. I shake my head, and continue on my day in disbelief.
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For more information about Schatzki's Ring, visit...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schatzki_ring
http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&q=schatzki's+ring
http://images.google.com/images?svnum=10&hl=en&lr=&q=schatzki+ring
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Well... Last night, this all changed. I had the worst Schatzki Ring attack that I have ever had the displeasure of living through. In fact, nineteen hours later, and I can still feel the constricted ring. As I type this, I have what I would call a "discomfort" that I would put at about a 1.5 out of 10 on the pain scale, and frankly, I am scared to try and eat anything "solid". I have been slowly drinking fluids, and so I know that there is not a full blockage. I am not sure if the pain I am feeling is a constricted ring, herniated esophagus, or just pain from a sore rib cage after the (nearly 30 minutes) of useless attempted vomiting... Either way, it is not pleasant.
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Yesterday's events deserve their own post, but will create a post that is much too big if combined with this one. So, watch for the upcoming full story on yesterday's Schatzki episode...
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David.
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6 comments:

  1. So sorry Dave. Getting older is a cruel alternative to death.

    Is shackti's ring a kind of sphincter? what a nightmare. Keep sipping. Any one in your family seen a doctor?
    I'll be swallowing for you.

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  2. Maybe some KY will do the trick!

    :) :) :)

    Sis.

    BTW...raw apples and carrots trigger a very mild one in me.

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  3. I don't know if this blog is still active but I just wanted to tell you that I was dx'd with a Schatzie's RIng yesterday in a horrible way.
    I was participating in a clinical trial and had to take a "smart Pill" which was described as no big deal - just like a vitamin - no one ever has a problem with it since the beginning of the study, blah blah blah.
    Turns out it got stuck in my "ring" and I had to have an emergency endoscopy to pull it back up.
    WHat a horror! Now I'm afraid to eat.

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  4. It sure is! Thanks for the comments...

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  5. Wow; I hope (now 10 years later) that you finally found out that there is a super quick, painless procedure to expand the esophageal ring and eliminate the problem all together. Chances are, you'll need to do it every few years since it's a genetic issue, but you don't need to live like this! If anyone is still coming across this post, make an appointment with your gastroenterologist today! You can thank me tomorrow when the pain is gone! I saw my dr for this over a year ago and have enjoyed the heck out of eating in public again and even spicy/acidic foods without fear of the pain, or regurgitation! After living with this for 7 years, I'm still banging my head as to why I waited so long to treat it.

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    Replies
    1. Cassia, my father had a procedure (like Angelo-Plasticity (sp?)) Where a small deflated balloon is put in place and then inflated to stretch out the ring. It has worked pretty well for him. I have not had as severe an attack since this one. I am just a little more careful! Thanks for the comment!

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