If you experience heartburn, you might brush it off as a temporary, yet uncomfortable, side effect of eating certain foods. However, this condition can actually be an indicator of something more serious.
Heartburn is one of the most noticeable symptoms of acid reflux, which most people experience every now and again. However, if you deal with heartburn two or more times a week, you might have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It’s important to begin treatment early as stomach acid can damage the esophagus and lead to a variety of conditions. Read on to learn more about potential complications.
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid rises up your esophagus, leaving it inflamed. This makes its lining more susceptible to erosion, ulcers, and other injuries, which can cause pain when swallowing.
2. Esophageal Stricture
When the esophagus is frequently inflamed, it might develop a layer of scar tissue, thus narrowing the pathway. This can make it harder to swallow and can even cause food to stick in your throat.
3. Esophageal Rings
Repeated exposure to stomach acid can create bands of irregular tissue at the lower end of the esophagus, which can lead to difficulty swallowing. Depending on the size of the rings, your doctor might recommend stretching them out to relieve some of the symptoms. This procedure typically has a short recovery time.
4. Barrett’s Esophagus
Repeated exposure to stomach acid can cause the esophageal cells to transform, becoming similar to the cells that make up the lining of the small intestine. This condition slightly increases your risk of esophageal cancer, so speak with your doctor about screening if you have Barrett’s esophagus.
5. Esophageal Cancer
Repeat damage to cells that make up the lining of the esophagus can cause them to divide repeatedly and unpredictably, resulting in esophageal cancer. Symptoms include chest pain, difficulty swallowing, and weight loss. If you have a high risk of developing esophageal cancer, speak to your doctor about screening.
6. Tooth Decay
Untreated GERD can damage more than just your esophagus. If the stomach acid backs all the way up into the mouth, it can damage the enamel of your teeth, eventually leading to tooth decay.
If you experience frequent heartburn or other symptoms of GERD, schedule an appointment with your Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group primary care physician to talk about your concerns. If needed, they can refer you to the Heartburn & Acid Reflux Institute at St. Luke's Health–The Woodlands Hospital, where you can receive innovative care and individualized treatment.
Healthline | Acid Reflux and Your Throat
Healthline | GERD: Is the Damage Reversible?
American Cancer Society | Signs and Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer
American Cancer Society | Esophageal Cancer Risk Factors
Healthline | All About Esophageal Webs and How They're Treated