(BPT) - Heartburn, that painful feeling in your chest or throat that can follow a heavy meal, may be more than an inconvenience. Heartburn is actually the most common symptom of a medical condition that impacts up to 40 percent of Americans in their lifetime, and is also called gastroesophageal acid reflux disease, or GERD. If left untreated, chronic GERD can increase a person’s risk for a precancerous condition of the esophagus called Barrett’s esophagus (BE). BE is the primary risk factor for esophageal adenocarcinoma, a type of cancer of the esophagus.
Often referred to as acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can be diagnosed by a doctor. It occurs when stomach acids back up into the esophagus, causing painful symptoms such as heartburn or regurgitation.
Obesity, increase in age and smoking are all additional 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. In recent years, experts have grown concerned that PPIs are being overused. In fact, PPIs use has been associated with osteoporosis and bone fracture, hypomagnesaemia, the development of gastric polyps, enteric infections, interstitial nephritis and pneumonia. If you or a loved one has been taking PPIs, or other acid reducing medications, for more than eight weeks, it is important to consult with your physician to periodically review your treatment plan.
Over time, chronic acid reflux due to GERD can damage the lining of the esophagus (the swallowing tube that carries foods and liquids from the mouth to the stomach), possibly leading to a pre-cancerous disease called BE.
- BE affects up to 12 million American adults.
- Left untreated, BE can increase someone’s risk of developing a certain type of esophageal cancer (called esophageal adenocarcinoma).
- In contrast to more common cancers in the U.S. such as breast cancer, melanoma and prostate cancer, the yearly mortality rate of esophageal cancer nearly matches the yearly incidence rate.
- Once diagnosed with esophageal cancer, a patient’s five-year survival rate is only 18%.
- There are powerful ways to treat BE, including an innovative and proven approach called radiofrequency ablation that delivers heat energy to the diseased lining of the esophagus, which allows physicians to remove the 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, actionable 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 testing options. Receiving a confirmed diagnosis is the first step in developing a treatment plan to best help you.
For information about GERD and to find a physician near you, visit www.learnaboutgerd.com.
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