Heartburn, which causes a painful burning feeling in the chest, is usually a minor nuisance for most individuals. On the other hand, uncontrolled heartburn may become a severe issue for individuals who suffer from it regularly.
Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 14th February 2022.
Uncontrolled Heartburn Can Affect You Negatively
Heartburn, the most frequent symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease, often known as GERD, is heartburn. The lower oesophageal sphincter (LES), a valve that usually keeps food and acids within the stomach, malfunctions, causing GERD. It enables acids to back up into the oesophagus when it isn’t working correctly.
You may be able to clench your teeth and learn to cope with the pain of heartburn if you grit your teeth. However, if you don’t address it, you may suffer severe long-term consequences. Here are a few of the problems that uncontrolled heartburn may cause.
Oesophagitis, Barrett’s Oesophagus, and Oesophageal Cancer
When stomach acids return up into the oesophagus, they may cause damage to the oesophageal lining. This damage may cause oesophagitis, a painful inflammation of the oesophagus. The acid burns away at the oesophagus over time, producing bleeding. Blood may flow into the digestive system and appear as black, tarry stools if severe enough bleeding. Oesophagitis may also lead to painful ulcers open sores on the oesophageal lining.
Barrett’s oesophagus is a disease caused by long-term acid exposure from GERD in a tiny proportion of individuals (BE). BE causes aberrant cells to develop and replace the place of acid reflux-damaged cells. Furthermore, these cells have the potential to develop into cancerous cells.
BE patients are more likely to develop oesophageal adenocarcinoma or oesophageal cancer. White men over the age of 50 and those who smoke or are obese have a higher risk of developing cancer. Call your doctor if you’ve been suffering from severe, long-term heartburn.
Narrowing of the Oesophagus
Scarring — strictures — may form due to oesophageal damage over time, narrowing the entrance of the oesophagus. Swallowing may be difficult, and food and drinks can’t get into the stomach because of the constricted passage. It may also induce oesophageal spasms, which are severe chest pains that might be mistaken for a heart attack. People who develop strictures, as painful as they may be, get relief from their heartburn. Because the constriction prevents acids from rising into the oesophagus, this is the case.
Asthma and Other Respiratory Problems
Asthma and heartburn are often linked. According to studies, 30% to 80% of asthmatic patients also have GERD symptoms. It’s still unclear if asthma causes GERD or vice versa. Acid from the stomach backing up into the airways is one potential reason for the link between GERD and asthma.
GERD has also been related to several other respiratory issues, such as:
- Bronchitis (chronic bronchitis)
- Chronic coughing
- Chronic sinusitis
- Fibrosis of the lungs (lung scarring)
- Recurrent pneumonia
Voice and Throat Problems
Acids from GERD may cause hoarseness and laryngitis in the throat. Voice alterations have been observed by some individuals, especially those with severe acid reflux. On the plus side, voice and throat issues usually respond well to GERD treatment.
Dental Problems Due to Reflux
When acidic substances enter the mouth, they may wreak havoc on tooth enamel. GERD patients had greater tooth erosion than the general population, according to many studies. Bad breath and an increase in saliva production are other possible side effects of the disease.
Heartburn Complications in Children
Heartburn and other GERD symptoms may also affect infants and children. Kids may not communicate their feelings verbally, but if the condition isn’t addressed, they may have many of the same problems as adults. Infants who suffer from severe reflux may not be able to eat effectively. As a result, growth is stunted. Babies may have recurrent pneumonia if they aspirate stomach acids into their airways. Some studies have even hypothesised that obstruction of the airways due to reflux may cause sudden infant death syndrome.
Avoiding Complications of Reflux
Before you become too worried that your heartburn is progressing to esophagitis or oesophageal cancer, you should know that there are many options for treatment. These treatments may help relieve heartburn while also lowering your risk of problems.
A gastroenterologist may diagnose your problem by looking down your throat using a tiny scope called an endoscope. They may also utilise additional tests to assist with the diagnosis. Medications and lifestyle changes are typically used to treat GERD. However, surgery may be required in rare cases to clear a blockage or prevent acid from backing up.
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