Heartburn (GERD)

What Can Happen If GERD Persists?

In some cases, GERD may occur for a brief period of time and then disappear forever. Women, for instance, may experience GERD during pregnancy and never again. Obese people who permanently lose weight may be cured of GERD. Often, however, GERD is a chronic disease that does continue. Fortunately, most people have mild GERD that occurs once in a while. It almost never causes any serious or permanent damage to the body. People with mild GERD learn what foods and other factors trigger their symptoms and can usually avoid GERD attacks.

However, severe GERD that continues for years without proper treatment can damage the esophagus and result in serious health problems:

  • Esophagitis, an inflammation of the lining of the esophagus that may cause bleeding and ulcers .
  • Esophageal stricture, a narrowing of the inner part of the esophagus caused by scar tissue.
  • Dysphagia means difficulty swallowing and is due to the strictures and narrowing that obstructs the esophagus, causing difficulty swallowing food and saliva. When swallowing food, especially meat, individuals with strictures may feel that food is sticking in the esophagus in middle of their chest.
  • Barrett esophagus, a condition in which stomach-lining cells start growing in the esophagus. This condition slightly increases the risk that a person will develop cancer of the esophagus.

How Are The Complications of GERD Treated

People with complications of GERD may be treated with the same methods used to prevent reflux. Lifestyle changes, medication, or anti-reflux surgery can reduce reflux and additional damage to the esophagus. Further treatment, however, is usually needed if serious complications develop.

  • Esophageal stricture and dysphagia
  • Barrett esophagus and esophageal cancer

Esophageal Stricture And Dysphagia

Several non-surgical procedures are available for treating esophageal stricture the narrowing of the esophagus that may result in difficulty swallowing. They involve dilating (which means widening) the narrowed area of esophageal tissue.

  • An endoscope can be used to place an uninflated balloon into the opening of the stricture. The balloon is then inflated to open the stricture and restore the channel in the esophagus.
  • Surgical instruments called dilators can be inserted into the esophagus from the mouth to open the stricture. The doctor starts with small dilators, and uses larger ones until the stricture has been opened.
  • If a piece of meat or other food gets trapped in an esophageal stricture, completely obstructing the esophagus so that the person is unable to swallow – even saliva, the obstruction usually can be removed using an endoscope.
  • Very rarely surgery is required to bypass the blockage

Barrett Esophagus And Esophageal Cancer

Doctors should advise individuals with Barrett esophagus to have regular endoscopic examinations of the esophagus since there is a small risk that cancer can develop in this area. If cancer does occur, it will then be detected early and in a more curable form. Esophageal cancer usually is treated with surgery or radiation therapy.

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