Occasionally, everyone experiences acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux (GER). When you experience reflux more than twice per week, you might actually have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
The Anatomy of GERD
GERD is a condition in which gastric acid persistently and regularly backflows into the esophagus due to a malfunctioning valve. When you swallow, a muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow down into your stomach, and then it closes again. Sometimes, this muscle relaxes or weakens and allows stomach acid and digested food to move upwards.
Acid in the esophagus can cause symptoms including:
- Burning in chest
- Burning in throat
- Chest pain
- Chronic cough
- Sore throat
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Pain lying down
Dangers of Untreated GERD
Chronic, untreated GERD can result in damage of the esophageal lining and lead to conditions like:
- Reflux esophagitis – Exposure to stomach acid initiates inflammation that damages the lining of the esophagus. This often causes chest pain and difficulty swallowing.
- Silent reflux – Stomach acid can back up into the throat, larynx or even nasal passage and cause inflammation.
- Barrett’s esophagus – As the esophagus tries to heal, the cells may change in order to adapt and protect the esophagus. These changes can increase the risk of developing esophageal cancer.
Talk to a Gastroenterologist
If you have come to accept heartburn as a way of life, it is time to reconsider. Make an appointment with a gastroenterologist – a physician who specializes in treating and managing digestive conditions – and begin your journey toward digestive health today.