Health Risks of Untreated Acid Reflux/Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
Chronic acid reflux or GERD is a common problem and can be quite unpleasant. Stomach acids eat at the lining of the esophagus, leading to heartburn, dyspepsia and regurgitation. But what many may see as a minor annoyance can become a major issue if left untreated.
It’s important to remember that in the majority of cases, long-term complications of GERD can be prevented with proper treatment including medication and lifestyle changes. Getting informed is the key, and Sanford Center for Digestive Health is here for you.
Chronic Heartburn and Acid Reflux
How does this increase my risk for other conditions or diseases?
What repeated exposure to stomach acid and other digestive juices can cause esophagitis, esophageal bleeding and ulcers, Barrett’s esophagus, strictures and an increased risk of esophageal cancer.
When too much stomach acid backwash in the esophagus causes a painful and irritating inflammation, this is called esophagitis. It occurs when stomach acid repeatedly comes into contact with the lining of the esophagus. The issue may lead to esophageal bleeding or ulcers and scarring.
Another serious condition that can occur is Barrett’s esophagus, which develops in some people who have chronic GERD. In this condition, damage to the esophageal lining – for example by acid reflux – can cause abnormal changes to cells in the area. People with Barrett’s esophagus may be at risk of developing cancer of the esophagus.
Occasionally when the esophagus is damaged, scarring can occur. The scars and create a narrowing of the esophagus, called strictures. These strictures can interfere with eating and drinking by preventing food and liquid from reaching the stomach.
Cancer of the esophagus can also stem from acid reflux disease. Other risk factors include cigarette smoking, drinking alcohol, and being overweight.
Esophageal cancer is divided into two main types:
- Squamous cell carcinoma: this type of cancer begins in cells that line the esophagus and can affect any part of the esophagus.
- Adenocarcinoma: this type of cancer develops in gland cells and is usually found in the lower part of the esophagus.
In its early stages, esophageal cancer often has no symptoms. Difficulty swallowing and weight loss are the most common symptoms as the cancer grows. The opening of the esophagus becomes narrower, making swallowing difficult or painful.
Can chronic acid reflux and GERD can be prevented?
The Sanford Center for Digestive Health's fellowship trained, board certified gastroenterology team offers specialized care, diagnosis and treatment of the symptoms and conditions you may be facing. With the largest, most experienced team in the region, we provide services that are unmatched in this region.
Posted Date: August 2013