Gastroesophageal reflux disease—or GERD—is a condition that occurs when a weakened lower esophageal sphincter allows stomach acid to regularly back up into a person’s esophagus, causing uncomfortable symptoms that can interfere with his or her quality of life. GERD symptoms include heartburn, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, sore throats, acid reflux and more. If left untreated, GERD symptoms can transform from uncomfortable irritations to serious complications. Below are some risks associated with leaving your GERD untreated.
When stomach acid rises, it enters your esophagus (i.e. the tube connecting your mouth to your stomach). Over time, the stomach acid can irritate the lining of the esophagus and cause it to swell. This inflammation is called esophagitis. You may also develop esophageal ulcers, which can scar over time and lead to strictures, or narrowed areas in your esophagus, making it difficult to swallow.
Increased Risk of Cancer
Leaving GERD untreated can raise your risk of developing esophageal cancer. Barrett’s esophagus, a condition resulting from the abnormal healing of esophagitis, can also increase your risk of developing this type of cancer.
GERD can take a serious toll on your perfect smile. Stomach acid will eventually wear down the enamel on your teeth, weakening them and leading to cavities and decay.
How You Can Treat GERD
The right GERD treatment will vary from person to person. For minor reflux cases your doctor may recommend medications such as an antacid in addition to lifestyle changes shown to lessen the effects of GERD. These include eating smaller meals, avoiding tobacco and alcohol, cutting back of high-fat or acidic foods and reducing caffeine intake. For more severe cases of GERD, however, anti-reflux surgery is the only way to effectively treat the condition and relieve symptoms long-term. Finding the right treatment for your GERD is as simple as talking to your reflux specialist about the best options for your personal treatment of the condition.
Remember to see a doctor immediately if you experience severe chest pain, shortness of breath or pain in your jaw or arm. These could be symptoms of a heart attack, rather than a flare-up of your GERD.