Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic digestive disease that occurs when stomach acid or bile liquid contents return into the esophagus. Acid reflux irritates the lining of the esophagus, resulting in gastroesophageal symptoms. Both acid reflux and heartburn are digestive symptoms that most people experience. However, when they occur at least two times each week, or interferes with a person’s daily activities, a diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease is most probable.
Most people can manage the discomfort of heartburn by changing the lifestyle and using medicines obtained without a prescription. However, when the presence of gastrointestinal reflux disease was already confirmed, these remedies might offer only temporary relief. Therefore, it is recommended to consult your doctor since the first symptoms.
Those who experience this disease may need stronger medications, or even surgery to relieve it. If a person is experiencing frequent or prolonged heartburn (at least twice a week regularly), it should see a doctor. Below are a few reasons on why you must not ignore the gastroesophageal reflux disease.
The gastroesophageal reflux disease returns food, acids and digestive juices into the esophagus – the tube that connects the throat and stomach. In time (a few weeks), this phenomenon causes irritation and inflammation of the lining, known as esophagitis. This can be uncomfortable, even painful and can cause accentuated vulnerability of the esophagus to erosion or scars.
If esophagitis is not treated, scar tissue can narrow the esophagus. The result is called esophageal stricture and will make the swallowing process difficult or painful. Large pieces of food can get stuck, and for their removal, endoscopy might even be necessary. Furthermore, comes the risk of suffocation, and the patient may lose weight if will avoid eating and drinking due to esophageal stricture. Treatment will be made by dilation or stretching of the esophagus. Usually, it is necessary to repeat the procedure, but some drugs that inhibit gastric secretion role, such as proton pump inhibitors, may prevent relapse.
Throat problems and voice alteration
Although the main symptom of GERD is heartburn, not all people manifest it. Some people may have manifestations that could make the diagnosis difficult, including hoarseness or other voice changes, chronic sore throat or cough. They have a feeling of lump in the throat and feel the need to clean their neck.
When stomach acid is inhaled by regurgitation, the process can lead to higher asthma or pneumonia. Even if a person does not suffers from lung diseases, it may have difficulty breathing due to gastroesophageal reflux. Treatment has both positive and negative effects. Some types of medications used to treat the disease can increase the risk of pneumococcal (can stimulate bacterial growth, or a suppress cough that acts to cleanse the lungs). This is why any doctor should consider the lung function of every patient, before prescribing a treatment for gastroesophageal reflux disease.
When stomach acid and digestive juices reach the esophagus and end up in the mouth, it can cause a sour taste, and acids will trigger tooth decay by affecting enamel. Gastroesophageal reflux patients are aware of this damage when the teeth are affected; studies already confirming that gastric acidity specific to this disease is the cause of many advanced-stage cavities.
If not treated, even after many years, gastroesophageal acid reflux can cause precancerous changes at the cell level, condition known as Barrett’s esophagus. It does not always cause symptoms, but a doctor can diagnose this condition by using endoscopy. Only a small number of people with Barrett’s esophagus develop esophageal cancer, which is often fatal. Therefore, if a patient has heartburn more than twice a week, for a long period of time, or symptoms worsen, we have to consult the doctor for detailed investigation and proper treatment.
In very severe cases, esophageal reflux disease that leads to Barrett’s esophagus can trigger cancer of the esophagus. The main risk factors are smoking, alcohol consumption, inadequate diet and chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease. Symptoms include weight loss, difficulty in swallowing or gastrointestinal bleeding. Any person over the age of 50, who suffer from heartburn, and observe sudden weight loss, must go to medical consultation for tests and analysis.
Poor quality of life
Along with health risks, symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease can impact on health and quality of life of a person, being compromised because of restrictions or food issues, sleep, and as a result of social and physical limitations or financial consequences (due to frequent purchase of drugs to relieve symptoms). Quality of life in patients with gastroesophageal reflux was similar to those who suffer from cardiovascular accident, or even worse than those who suffer from cancer and diabetes.