Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is caused by a weakening of the lower esophageal muscle (LES), which can allow stomach acid to rise back into the esophagus, resulting in chronic acid reflux and a variety of other symptoms. When you don’t immediately diagnose or treat your GERD, long-term complications can arise that sometimes cannot be corrected, even after finally treating your GERD. Below, we will take a look at a few possible complications of GERD and how you can more earlier diagnose and treat your GERD, before these issues wreak havoc.
Esophagitis, which is characterized by an inflammation of the esophagus can be a complication of untreated GERD. Symptoms of esophagitis include bleeding, ulcers, and long-term scarring of the esophagus. This scarring can ultimately narrow the entire esophagus, making it extremely difficult to swallow.
Untreated GERD can be one of the leading causes of ulcers, which are painful open sores or lesions that appear in the lining of the esophagus. Due to the chronic exposure of the esophagus to stomach acid, esophageal ulcers are common in people with untreated GERD.
People with asthma are twice as likely to have GERD. While there isn’t much research to support that GERD will directly cause asthma, it can exacerbate the symptoms of asthma for those who have it. When stomach acid rises into your esophagus and throat, it can make its way past your vocal cords and into your lungs, which may result in damage.
Stomach acid may also change the cells of the lining of your esophagus. This change is referred to as Barrett's esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus can increase the likelihood of cancer of the esophagus, though it is not especially common. Only a minor percentage (about 5-10%) of people with GERD will ever develop Barrett's esophagus.
When to Have Your Symptoms Checked
If you experience acid reflux more than twice a week, have difficulty swallowing, chest pain, vomiting, or unexpected weight loss, you should contact your doctor.
Sometimes GERD can be treated with diet or lifestyle changes, or medications. However, these types of recommendations do not treat GERD at the root cause. There are surgical options like Lap Nissen Fundoplication, the TIF surgery, and the Linx® surgery that work to strengthen the LES muscle and help target the root cause of GERD.
As mentioned, if you wait too long to treat your GERD then you may still experience the fallout of these complications that occur as a result of untreated GERD, so be sure to see a reflux specialist at the earliest signs of this disease.