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The Strange Case of a Man Who Couldn’t Burp for 34 Years

A 34-year-old man who lost his ability to burp when he was only a baby, due to a condition so rare it doesn’t even have a name, has recently been cured by Botox injections in his throat, and claims his life has improved more than anyone could ever imagine.

Most of us take burping for granted, or even consider it to be offensive, without considering the fact that without it, we would have to put up with agonizing pain. At least that’s what Neil Ribbens, a man who couldn’t burp for most of his life, claims. The young record label talent from East London, UK, was unable to release gas from his stomach, which caused him to experience excruciating pain, severe hiccups and bloating, especially after consuming large meals or drinking beer and other fizzy drinks.

Neil’s bizarre problem was caused by his larynx, which apparently became so tensed that it would prevent gases from escaping through his throat. Left unable to burp since he was a baby, the man saw various doctors throughout the years, hoping to find a cure to his condition. However, most physicians had never even heard of such a problem, and some didn’t even take him seriously. Neil remembers one doctor laughing at his inability to burp, while most of the others only recommended inefficient medication.

Photo: derneuemann/Pixabay

You never stop to think about it, but being unable to burp when you really need to can greatly affect your social life. Neil says he avoided to the pub with his friends until he was 25-years-old because he knew a simple beer would cause him serious pain and he wouldn’t be able to enjoy himself. The big Christmas dinner – or any three course meal for that matter – was also a no-no for him, as it would cause his belly to bloat to twice its normal size, and he would experience severe hiccups and pain.

When the gas buildup in his stomach got to a certain point, it would trigger a peculiar gurgling sound from the bottom of Neil’s throat, which he describes as “the strangest sound you’ve ever heard coming from a human body”. This was followed by a tightness in his chest and an acidic taste in his mouth. Then the bloating would start, and the cramps, and in extreme cases, he would get vicious hiccups.

So how do you put up with this sort of problem? Well, Neil says that his only option was getting really good at releasing the gas by farting, which sometimes put him in embarrassing situations.

Luckily for Neil,  his nightmare came to an end one day when, while searching online for yet another doctor, he found Manchester-based surgeon Yakubu Karagama, who was not only familiar with his condition, but had actually pioneered a Botox-based treatment for it.

Botox is commonly used in cosmetic surgery, so iron out wrinkles, but when injected into muscles, it also causes a reduction in abnormal muscle contraction, allowing the muscles to become less stiff. Neil had it injected in his larynx, to make it lense tense, and although the procedure cost £3,000 ($4,000), he claims that it was worth every penny.

“Words can’t describe how much better I feel,” Mr. Ribbens said. “Not being able to burp sounds funny looking back and talking about it now, but at the time it was awful.”

And the best part is that unlike cosmetic Botox, which has to be injected regularly to preserve its effects, in Neil’s case, the one procedure should have cured his condition for good.

Dr. Karagama, one of the few surgeons in the world treating this unusual condition, says that sufferers are often ignored or even ridiculed, but their problem is no laughing matter. They often have to put up with severe pain that can last for hours, until the gas buildup in their stomach is eliminated through the ‘backdoor’. Unfortunately, because it is extremely rare, doctors are only just beginning to understand it.

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