In many cases, heartburn is not simply a result of eating too quickly or eating food that is too spicy. The burning sensation you feel in your chest may actually be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gastric problems. When you choose to dismiss heartburn, you may be dismissing more serious and life-altering issues. Rather than suffering silently with heartburn, find out what’s beneath the symptom. At Carolina Digestive Health Associates, we want to help you discover the problems that may arise if you refuse to address heartburn.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) affects 10-15% of Americans who suffer from heartburn. GERD is diagnosed in men and women who have a weak esophageal sphincter. The esophageal sphincter is a muscle that opens to allow food to pass from the esophagus to the stomach, then closes to prevent stomach acid from entering the esophagus. When this muscle is weak and digestive juices flow into the esophagus, the burning sensation known as heartburn occurs. GERD can be easily treated by a lifestyle change, including an adjustment in diet. Avoiding coffee, citrus fruits, tomato-based foods, spicy foods, fatty foods, and alcohol will go a long way to reduce symptoms. However, complications can occur if GERD is not managed and treated effectively.
When the tissue lining the esophagus changes to resemble intestinal tissue, Barrett’s esophagus is diagnosed. Barrett’s esophagus is a complication of GERD that occurs most frequently in middle-aged Caucasian men who have a history of heartburn. Patients with extreme cases of GERD, as well as those who experience heartburn multiple times a week, may be encouraged to have an upper endoscopy. This screening will reveal whether or not Barrett’s tissue is present. If present, your GI doctor may take a biopsy of the tissue to determine if any of the cells are cancerous. Adenocarcinoma is a form of esophageal cancer that forms as a result of Barrett’s tissue. Treating Barrett’s esophagus and removing the cancerous tissue may be the best course of action.
In the United States, adenocarcinoma is the most common form of esophageal cancer. This cancer forms most frequently in Barrett’s tissue as a result of the mutated tissue cells. While it is the sixth leading cause of cancer deaths in America, the risk is highest for white men. Although adenocarcinoma is difficult to treat through radiation, early detection of Barrett’s esophagus can protect you from a cancer diagnosis. This is why it is crucial to take frequent heartburn seriously. Addressing heartburn may reveal gastroesophageal reflux disease and if managed correctly, can protect your esophagus from Barrett’s esophagus and the threat of esophageal cancer. If you experience heartburn multiple times a week, schedule an appointment at Carolina Digestive Health Associates to determine whether or not you are suffering from GERD. We have eight convenient locations with a team of doctors dedicated to helping you determine the root of your heartburn and the best form of treatment.