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Complications of Long-Term GERD

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Updated April 17, 2014

If gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD - also referred to as acid reflux disease) is not treated effectively, the constant acid reflux can irritate the lining of the esophagus, and serious complication can occur.

The more serious complications of GERD that may occur are Barrett's esophagus, esophageal cancer, laryngeal cancer, erosive esophagitis, and esophageal strictures.

Barrett's Esophagus
Barrett's esophagus is a condition in which the esophagus, the muscular tube that carries food and saliva from the mouth to the stomach, changes so that some of its lining is replaced by a type of tissue similar to that normally found in the intestine. Those with Barrett's esophagus are 30 to 125 times more likely to develop esophageal cancer than those without this condition.

Esophageal Cancer
Esophageal cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the esophagus. Doctors cannot always explain why one person gets cancer and another does not. There is, however, a strong association between gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and esophageal cancer.

Laryngeal Cancer
Researchers have reported that GERD is significantly associated with the development of laryngeal cancer (cancer of the larynx).

Erosive Esophagitis
Esophagitis is an inflammation and swelling of the esophagus, and is most often caused by acid-containing stomach contents refluxing back up into the esophagus.

Esophageal Strictures
An esophageal stricture is a gradual narrowing of the esophagus, which can lead to swallowing difficulties. Learn the causes, symptoms, diagnostic methods and treatment of esophageal strictures.

Preventing GERD Complications

There are several steps you can take that can drastically reduce your chances of developing one of these complications.

1. Make the necessary lifestyle changes
Heartburn symptoms can often be relieved if sufferers make a few lifestyle changes. Many people can significantly reduce the occurrence of symptoms by avoiding heartburn triggers and behaviors that contribute to acid reflux flare-ups. With less acid reflux episodes, there is less chance of esophageal damage. Follow these ten suggestions to significantly reduce the occurrence of acid reflux symptoms.

2. Watch what you eat
If you suffer from acid reflux, you need to know what foods are safe to eat and what foods to avoid. Most heartburn sufferers indicate their heartburn is worse after eating. If you can reduce the occurrences of food-related heartburn, this can go a long way in reducing the risk of complications. For example, drinking carbonated drinks may increase your risk of esophageal cancer. There are the foods with little risk of causing heartburn, foods that can be consumed in moderation, and foods that should be avoided completely. Also, knowing how to prepare foods will reduce heartburn. Check out this recipe index for heartburn-free recipes. Another resource to help you with your dietary needs as a heartburn sufferer is the Dining Out Guide For Heartburn Sufferers.

3. Keep track of your heartburn triggers
When you experience chronic heartburn, the first step to controlling your heartburn is to record what may trigger your attacks, the severity of the attacks, how your body reacts, and what gives you relief. The next step is to take this information to your doctor so the both of you can determine what lifestyle changes you will need to make and what treatments will give you maximum relief, and prevent complications. You can use this heartburn record as an example of what to track.

4. Learn how to prevent heartburn before it happens
Here are a few tips to significantly reduce the occurrence of acid reflux symptoms, and in most cases prevent the acid reflux before it starts. With less acid reflux episodes, there is less chance of esophageal damage.

5. Reduce nighttime heartburn
Nighttime heartburn can be the most dangerous. If frequent nighttime heartburn occurs, the risk of complications increases. There are several reasons reasons for this. For example, refluxed acid tends to remain in the esophagus for longer periods, allowing it to cause more damage to the esophagus. There are, however, a few ways to prevent nighttime heartburn.

6. Take prescribed medications
You should always contact your doctor if your heartburn occurs two or more times a week. While under the care of your physical, he or she may prescribe prescription medications or suggest over-the-counter remedies. There are alternative homeopathic remedies for easing heartburn. Discuss these with your doctor also.

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Additional Resources:
Symptoms of GERD
Causes of GERD
Diagnosing GERD
Treating GERD

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Sources
"Barrett's Esophagus." NIH Publication No. 05–4546 December 2004. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). 4 Nov 2006

"Heartburn, Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER), and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." NIH Publication No. 07–0882 May 2007. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). 4 Nov 2006

"The Word on GERD." American College of Gastroenterology. 4 Nov 2006

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