We’ve all experienced the discomfort of heartburn after a large or spicy meal. It generally takes the form of a painful, burning sensation in your chest or throat. Most of us pop an over the counter antacid and are feeling better within minutes. However, when heartburn becomes a regular experience in your life, showing up two or more times a week, then it’s more commonly referred to as acid reflux and it can be much more serious.
Acid reflux occurs when stomach liquids have backed up into the esophagus, the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. The burning sensation you experience is caused by the irritation to the lining of the esophagus. Chronic acid reflux occurs when the esophagus never has a chance to heal before the next occurrence. This continuous irritation can eventually lead to permanent damage and major complications. For example, scar tissue can begin to form on the lining which narrows the esophagus and creates difficulty swallowing.
Here are four of the major complications that can result from ignoring your acid reflux:
Esophageal cancer occurs when a tumor forms on the lining of the esophagus. In its most devastating form, this tumor can grow through the wall of the esophagus and spread the cancer to other parts of the body through the blood stream or the lymphatic system. While the symptoms of esophageal cancer include heartburn, they are generally more pronounced. You may have difficulty swallowing or experience pain when you swallow. Food may become lodged in the esophagus. You may experience weight loss. You may vomit blood or pass blood in bowel movements. Obviously, these are serious symptoms that should never be ignored. Your body is telling you something is seriously wrong and you need to see a doctor immediately.
Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which the lining of the esophagus is replaced by tissue that is more commonly found in the intestine. This condition is not confined to those with acid reflux, though it is three to five times more likely to occur in someone suffering from acid reflux. Unfortunately, Barrett’s Esophagus comes without symptoms and is often difficult to diagnose. Serving as a precursor for esophageal adenocarcinoma, a deadly form of cancer, it is often discovered too late for effective treatment.
Esophagitis is an inflammation of the esophagus. This condition is the result of stomach acid backing up into the esophagus. The danger occurs when the symptoms are ignored. Left untreated, not only will you experience incredible discomfort, eventually you will begin to experience difficulty swallowing, ulcers in the esophagus or scarring of the esophagus. Symptoms include trouble swallowing, pain when swallowing, a burning sensation in your esophagus, acid reflux and oral lesions. Once diagnosed, it can be treated through medications designed to reduce your stomach acid or through the use of antibiotics if the infection has become severe.
An esophageal stricture is exactly what it sounds like – a narrowing of the esophagus. A stricture is caused by a build up of scar tissue on the lining of the esophagus. Acid reflux is the most common cause of this tissue scarring. If ignored or untreated, esophageal strictures can also lead to inflammation. Symptoms include difficulty or discomfort when swallowing, regurgitation of food, and weight loss. Treatment most commonly includes the stretching of the esophagus, the prescription of proton pump inhibitors or surgical treatment.