The Dangers of Acid Reflux Disease
By Robin Westen
Around 25 million Americans suffer with gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD). The condition is characterized by a backup (reflux) of acid through the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth and the stomach. As a result, the esophagus gets irritated. Although the condition is fairly common, don’t ignore it. Constant attacks can lead to inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis). And if the inflammation doesn’t get a chance to heal, it can result in more serious health problems like these:
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Coughing and Asthma Attacks Refluxed acid can stimulate nerves related to the lungs. This can lead to a constriction of the airways triggering coughing in non-asthmatics, and may result in an asthma attack if you have thqt condition. Continuous lung inflammation can also cause scarring on the lungs, as well as lung infections and pneumonia.
Ulcers Prolonged esophagitis can lead to damage in the esophagus lining. Once damaged, reflux acid can break through and eat away at the surface of esophagus wall and eventually cause an ulcer or lesion. Ulcers in this area are often painful and if left untreated can lead to bleeding in the esophagus. If severe, a blood transfusion or surgery may be required.
Strictures This happens when the inner cavity of the esophagus shrinks and narrows due to the scar tissue of a healed ulcer. A severe stricture can cause swallowed food to become stuck. If the food can’t pass through the esophagus, it needs to be surgically removed. A procedure to stretch the stricture may also be necessary.
Barrett's Esophagus Approximately 10% of people with GERD will develop a condition known as Barrett's esophagus. Barrett's esophagus usually occurs when the lower esophagus has been damaged by prolonged reflux acid, which causes the cells to change. Barrett's esophagus can be painful. Plus, the cellular change increases the risk of esophageal cancer.
Esophageal Cancer This type of cancer occurs in the inner layer of the esophagus and usually develops from Barrett's esophagus. Although esophageal cancer is very serious and life threatening, it is estimated that less than 1% of people with Barrett's esophagus will actually develop esophageal cancer.
What can you do? Speak to your doctor about the best treatment methods for your GERD condition before you develop any of these complications.
To comment, click here. About the Author
Robin Westen is ThirdAge's Medical Director. Her latest book, co-authored with Dr. Alyssa Dweck, is "V is for Vagina."