Although occasional heartburn is not a health concern, a chronic form of heartburn called gastro-esophageal reflux disease or GERD can cause a variety of health complications if not treated right away. Studies show that 19 million Americans suffer from GERD. In today’s post, we are giving you reasons why you need to seek treatment after being diagnosed with GERD:
Damage to the Esophagus
GERD occurs when stomach acid rises all the way up the esophagus, irritating the lining that coats the organ. The irritation of the esophagus lining leads to inflammation called esophagitis. This condition makes swallowing very hard. The condition can also lead to chronic coughing, sore throat, and hoarse voice. Esophagitis can be uncomfortable or downright painful depending on the severity of the condition. It can lead to esophageal scarring or erosion.
GERD can aggravate different types of respiratory ailments including asthma and pneumonia. The condition causes breathing problems, shortness of breath, and low blood pressure. Drugs used to treat GERD have their own disadvantages too. These medications increase the risk of pneumonia and promote bacterial growth.
When the stomach acid wears away the lining of the esophagus, the soft tissues are exposed to the acid, causing painful sores or ulcers. The esophageal ulcers are the reason why those afflicted with GERD spit up and vomit blood, or see traces of blood in the stool. If you seeing blood in your stool or you are vomiting blood, let your doctor know about it. Your doctor will check the esophagus and gastrointestinal tract using an endoscope to spot the sores.
Untreated GERD could trigger cell mutation, causing pre-cancerous changes in the cells. This condition is called the Barrett’s Esophagus. Unfortunately, this condition is hard to detect because there is no symptom. However, a doctor can check for Barrett’s Esophagus via an endoscopy. Do note that Barrett’s Esophagus could progress to esophageal cancer, which is often fatal.
If GERD is not treated for many years, it progresses to cancer of the esophagus. Apart from chronic acid influx, esophageal cancer is also triggered by poor diet, excessive alcohol consumption, and smoking. Symptoms of esophageal cancer include rapid weight loss, gastrointestinal bleeding, and difficulty in swallowing. According to doctors, if you are over 50 and have suffered from chronic acid influx for years and you lose weight, have yourself checked by a specialist.
If esophagitis remained untreated for years, scar tissues will start to form inside the esophagus. As the scars accumulate within the esophagus, the opening of the organ starts to become narrower. This condition is called esophageal stricture. Esophageal stricture can make swallowing hard or painful. In some cases, bits of food will be stuck in the scars, causing choking. Because of the stricture, a patient could lose significant weight and suffer from poor quality of life.
Thankfully, esophageal stricture is treatable. A doctor will stretch or dilate the esophagus to reduce the narrowing. This procedure is usually done repeatedly. But as long as you are on some form of acid-blocking meds such as proton pump inhibitors or PPI, there is less possibility of esophageal stricture coming back.