Every now and then, everyone has a little heartburn. Spicy foods, big meals, alcohol, and stress can push your stomach contents upward past your lower esophageal sphincter — the gatekeeper between your food tube and tummy.
The strong acids cause an unpleasant sensation known as heartburn. This acid reflux is no cause for concern as long as it’s occasional, but if it becomes frequent, it can cause some damage.
Here, Dr. Ayub Hussain, our board-certified gastroenterologist at Northside Gastroenterology Associates in Houston and Cypress, Texas, explains how chronic acid reflux can harm your health.
Heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD
Do you have acid reflux, heartburn, or GERD? Your confusion is understandable, as people often use these three terms interchangeably, but they actually have distinct meanings.
Acid reflux occurs when stomach contents flow back up into the esophagus, causing what we know as heartburn — that uncomfortable burning feeling in your chest after a meal or when you lay down. Heartburn is a symptom of the medical condition acid reflux.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a chronic form of acid reflux, takes things to another level. The constant flow of stomach acid damages the lining of your esophagus, saddling you with harmful inflammation. This narrows your esophagus, making it difficult to swallow. You definitely want to catch GERD early, so keep an eye out for those symptoms.
When you find yourself popping antacids several times a day, every day, it’s time to call Dr. Hussain.
When does acid reflux become dangerous?
Acid reflux in and of itself isn’t particularly dangerous, but it can cause health problems if you don’t resolve it. Here are some examples of health issues you may face with chronic acid reflux and GERD.
Esophagitis — inflammation of the esophagus — causes chest pain, difficulty swallowing, and heartburn when stomach acid creeps upward and irritates the lining. If your case is severe, you may even experience bleeding or ulcers.
If you’ve had GERD for a long time, you’re at risk of developing Barrett's esophagus. In fact, about 10%-20% of people with long-term GERD will develop this condition, where acid reflux changes the cells in your esophagus lining.
Unfortunately, Barrett’s esophagus puts you in the line of fire for something even worse — esophageal cancer — so don’t ignore your symptoms.
We classify esophageal cancer into two main types: adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
Adenocarcinoma is typically found in the lower part of the esophagus and is the most common type to spring from Barrett’s esophagus.
Squamous cell carcinoma mostly affects the middle and upper sections. These forms can cause significant damage to the lining of the esophagus.
Have you ever experienced difficulty swallowing or felt like food is stuck in your throat? This discomfort may be due to strictures, which are narrowings in the esophagus caused by scar tissue. These strictures can be painful and affect your ability to eat and drink normally.
There’s a possible connection between GERD and asthma, but researchers haven’t quite nailed it down yet. We do know that over 75% of people suffering from asthma experience GERD, indicating a potential correlation.
Unfortunately, GERD can worsen asthma symptoms, and asthma medications may exacerbate GERD.
However, treating GERD can often alleviate asthma symptoms, so if you have adult-onset asthma, worsening symptoms after meals, exercise, or bedtime, or standard treatments just aren't cutting it, consider talking to Dr. Hussain about the potential link between GERD and your breathing difficulties.
Don’t wait for acid reflux and GERD complications to destroy your health. Dr. Hussain can diagnose and treat these problems before they advance by identifying acid reflux triggers you can avoid, prescribing medication, and recommending surgical procedures for lasting relief.
Call Northside Gastroenterology Associates for an appointment or book online.