For most people, heartburn is just an occasional discomfort. Approximately 20% of the population of highly developed countries experience it at least once a month.
But for the 6% of people who have a chronic form of heartburn known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), untreated (untreated) symptoms can lead to various health complications. People with erosions in the lining of the esophagus due to acid reflux often do not realize the harm of GERD until
they have advanced disease.
If you experience frequent or prolonged heartburn (twice a week regularly), see your doctor. Here are nine reasons why you shouldn’t ignore the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease.
1. Development of inflammation in the esophagus (esophagitis)
In gastroesophageal reflux disease, food, acid, and digestive juices are thrown into the esophagus. Over time, this causes irritation and swelling of the mucous lining of the esophagus from the inside. This is esophagitis. If acid exposure in the esophagus is observed for only a few weeks, inflammation of the mucosa may already develop. This can cause discomfort and even pain along the midline of the abdominal wall, “under the pit of the stomach,” where the right and left ribs converge at the sternum. This inflammation makes the esophagus vulnerable to even more dangerous conditions such as erosions or scarring.
2. Esophageal stricture
If esophagitis continues for too long, the resulting scar tissue can narrow the esophagus. This stricture can lead to difficulty passing and swallowing food, which can get stuck at the level of scar tissue formation, causing pain.
Large pieces of food may get stuck and this situation may require endoscopic intervention to remove them. The stricture can cause frequent suppression when eating. Because of this, patients often refuse to eat and lose a lot of weight.
The stricture is treated by widening or stretching the esophagus (bougienage or dilatation). These treatment procedures can be repeated in terms of the effect on the stricture. But taking blockers of stomach acid production (proton pump inhibitors, PPIs, or H2 blockers) may prevent future esophageal scarring from returning.
3. Throat and voice problems
The main symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease is heartburn, but not all people feel and describe it. They may have other, more difficult-to-diagnose symptoms. Doctors call these cases “silent reflux,” or asymptomatic reflux. The patient may not have heartburn, as classically described in textbooks, but they may have various other problems that originate outside the esophagus, such as hoarseness, voice changes, sore throat, or chronic cough. They feel like there is a lump of hair in their throat and they constantly have to clear their throats by coughing and clearing their throats.
4. Breathing problems
If stomach acid accidentally leaks into the windpipe after it enters the esophagus in gastroesophageal reflux disease, GERD can worsen asthma or pneumonia. Even without mild problems, GERD can cause shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. And treatment in this situation can be a double-edged sword. Because GERD drugs, such as proton pump inhibitors, can increase the risk of pneumonia. (They can promote bacterial growth and suppress coughing, which is supposed to help clear the lungs.)
Keep your doctor’s attention on your lung function when treating reflux.
5. Tooth decay
When stomach acid and digestive juices enter the mouth through the esophagus, it can cause a sour taste and, if it happens often enough, it can erode tooth enamel, which can lead to cavities.
6. Esophageal ulcers
Stomach acid can break down the lining of the esophagus, causing sores and ulcers. Esophageal ulcers are different from stomach ulcers, which are usually caused by bacteria. People with wounds and ulcers may spit up blood, and they may also vomit blood. They may see blood in their stools. The blood may be red, cherry, or like coffee particles. In the stool, usual blood from the esophagus and stomach, when passing through the small intestine, acquires a black color, the color, and appearance of oil – viscous, slippery, and poorly washed off.
Contact your health practitioner straight away when you have these signs and symptoms. Endoscopy may reveal esophageal ulcers. Acid-blocking or acid-lowering medications can make them disappear.
7. Barrett’s Esophagus
If left untreated for many years, persistent acid reflux can develop into changes in cells known as Barrett’s esophagus, which is considered a precancerous condition. This condition causes no specific symptoms other than reflux symptoms. A doctor can diagnose it by performing an endoscopy.
If you have heartburn more than twice a week for a long time, if you have symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease that are getting worse, or discover new ones that you didn’t have before, these are all reasons to get checked out and get an endoscopy.
8. Cancer of the esophagus
In very severe cases, untreated gastroesophageal reflux disease (and subsequent Barrett’s esophagus) can lead to esophageal cancer. The main risk factors are alcohol use, smoking, poor nutrition, and chronic esophageal disease with reflux.
Symptoms include weight loss, trouble swallowing, or gastrointestinal bleeding. This is what happens over decades of untreated reflux (30-40 years), so those in their 30s and otherwise healthy have no reason to suspect cancer. But if you’re over 50 and have had heartburn for years and suddenly lose weight, for example, that’s definitely what a doctor will suspect first.
9. Lower quality of life
In addition to health risks, the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease can affect health and quality of life, which can be compromised by eating and sleeping problems, as well as social and physical limitations. In men, libido was reduced with prolonged reflux.
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