Stomach contents contain acid and a digestive enzyme which can irritate or damage the esophagus and cause severe burning or difficulty breathing. Individuals with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) experience a reflux of the stomach contents into the esophagus. This happens because the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which connects the esophagus to the stomach, does not close completely. If symptoms persist, and GERD is left unchecked, complications can arise.
GERD can often be found through a screening procedure called an endoscopy in which a tube-like device is used to examine the lining of the esophagus, stomach and the duodenum for changes that may indicate reflux or Barrett’s Esophagus. Biopsies, which are small samples of the tissue, may be taken during the procedure and reviewed by a gastrointestinal pathologist to determine if reflux induced changes are evident, and if Barrett’s Esophagus has developed.
The main symptoms associated with GERD include heartburn and/or chest pain caused by the regurgitation of acid. Heartburn is the most common of these symptoms and is experienced by many individuals.
The cause of GERD has not been identified, however there are many factors that contribute to GERD. Some of these factors include:
There are several possible complications associated with GERD. GERD can cause ulcers, an abnormal narrowing of the esophagus or even a pre-cancerous change in the cells of the esophagus known as Barrett’s Esophagus. Barrett’s Esophagus is a condition that is associated with an increased risk of cancer. Most individuals are not diagnosed until a later age. However, it is usually difficult to determine when the problem started. An individual with Barrett’s Esophagus has a 30 to 125 times higher risk of developing cancer than people who do not have Barrett’s Esophagus.
Treatment will vary depending on the stage of your GERD. The treatment alternatives may range from a simple lifestyle change to medication or surgery. Only your physician can determine the most appropriate treatment.
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