Is your heartburn more than just a symptom of overeating? It could be a sign of a serious disease.
Heartburn, that painful feeling in your chest or throat that can follow a heavy meal may be more than just an inconvenience.
Heartburn is actually the most common symptom of a medical condition that affects millions of people.
The condition is also called gastroesophageal acid reflux disease, or GERD. If left untreated, chronic GERD can increase a person’s risk of a pre-cancerous condition of the oesophagus called Barrett’s oesophagus (BE). BE is the primary risk factor for oesophageal adenocarcinoma, a type of cancer of the oesophagus.
Often referred to as acid reflux, GERD should be diagnosed by a doctor. It occurs when stomach acids back up into the oesophagus to cause painful symptoms such as heartburn or regurgitation.
Obesity, ageing and smoking are all risk factors that can increase a person’s chances of experiencing reflux.
Some people who suffer reflux may find symptom relief through the use of acid-controlling medications such as proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs. PPIs are acid-reducing drugs that are available over-the-counter as well as in prescription strength.
However, in recent years, experts have become concerned that PPIs are being overused. PPI use has been associated with osteoporosis and bone fracture, hypomagnesaemia, the development of gastric polyps, enteric infections, interstitial nephritis (a kidney condition) and pneumonia.
If you or a loved one has been taking PPIs or other acid-reducing medications for more than eight weeks, you should consult your doctor to review your treatment plan.
Over time, chronic acid reflux due to GERD can damage the lining of the oesophagus (the swallowing tube that carries foods and liquids from the mouth to the stomach), possibly leading to a pre-cancerous disease called BE.
If left untreated, BE can increase someone’s risk of developing a certain type of oesophageal cancer (called oesophageal adenocarcinoma).
There are powerful ways to treat BE, including an innovative and proven approach called radiofrequency ablation. It delivers heat energy to the diseased lining of the oesophagus, which allows doctors to remove problematic cells before they become cancerous.
The important thing is that there are now effective diagnostic tools – such as reflux testing – that provide physicians with more accurate information, which can lead to early treatment and possibly better symptom relief for patients.
If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of reflux, talk to a doctor about test options. Receiving a confirmed diagnosis is the first step in developing a treatment plan suitable for you.
For information about GERD, visit www.learnaboutgerd.com.