Acid reflux or Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is caused by stomach acid rising back up into the esophagus. This is the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. The gastric acid is able to escape when the one way valve between the stomach and esophagus, called the lower oesophageal sphincter, becomes weak and stops working properly. The acids then rise up into the throat causing the burning sensation that sufferers often refer to as heartburn. Left untreated or uncontrolled, acid reflux can lead to a condition called Barrett’s Esophagus and even Oesophageal cancer.
What is Barrett’s Esophagus
Barrett’s esophagus is a condition, which develops in folks with chronic heartburn acid reflux disease or GERD. It causes the cells that normally line the esophagus to be replaced by a different type of cell, similar to those typically found in the intestines, a process called intestinal metaplasia. Barrett’s esophagus is a pre-malignant condition that develops in up to twenty percent of patients with chronic GERD and is more prevalent in men than women.
Oesophageal cancer on the other hand is much more serious and often goes undetected because the tumours do not exhibit or produce any symptoms until they have spread beyond the esophagus. Difficulty in swallowing can be the first indication that something is wrong. Oesophageal cancer most often occurs in men over fifty years old and affects less than one on twenty thousand people.
Although acid reflux GERD is not the only cause of Oesophageal cancer, it should nevertheless not be underestimated. Not only is it painful when gastric acid backs up into the throat, but it can also cause erosive esophagitis. The lining of your stomach is designed to handle the gastric acid but your esophagus is made of a much softer tissue that is easily damaged when some stomach contents leak back out.
While it is not uncommon to have a heart pang here or a burp there, chronic gastroesophageal reflux disorder is a serious condition that can cause the abnormal condition known as Barrett’s Esophagus as well as oesophageal cancer. It is therefore important to have yourself medically checked out, especially if you have suffered from acid reflux for any length of time.