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The Potential Complications of Longstanding Heartburn

heartburn

Heartburn is a common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) that affects millions of people worldwide. While occasional heartburn is usually not a cause for concern, longstanding heartburn can lead to serious complications. In this blog post, we will discuss the potential complications of longstanding heartburn and why it is important to seek medical attention if you experience frequent heartburn.

What is Heartburn?

Heartburn is a burning sensation in the chest that occurs when stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus. It is a common symptom of GERD, a chronic condition that affects the digestive system. GERD occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a muscle that controls the flow of food and stomach acid into the stomach, does not function properly. There are also other reasons including, but not limited to, diet and lifestyle habits, in addition to anatomical conditions such as a hiatal hernia.

Potential Complications of Longstanding Heartburn

  1. Esophagitis: Prolonged exposure to stomach acid can cause inflammation of the lining of the esophagus, a condition known as esophagitis. Symptoms of esophagitis include difficulty swallowing, pain when swallowing, and chest pain.
  2. Barrett’s esophagus: Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which the lining of the esophagus changes and becomes more like the lining of the intestine. This can increase the risk of developing esophageal cancer.
  3. Esophageal strictures: Longstanding heartburn can cause scarring and narrowing of the esophagus, which can make it difficult to swallow.
  4. Dental problems: The acid from the stomach can also cause erosion of the enamel on the teeth, leading to dental problems such as tooth decay and sensitivity.
    Respiratory problems: In some cases, stomach acid can travel up into the throat and lungs, causing respiratory problems such as asthma and pneumonia.

Why is it Important to Seek Medical Attention?

If you experience frequent heartburn, it is important to seek medical attention to prevent complications. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes such as avoiding trigger foods, losing weight, and quitting smoking. They may also prescribe medications to reduce the amount of acid in the stomach and relieve symptoms.

In some cases, your doctor may recommend an endoscopy, a procedure in which a thin, flexible tube with a camera is inserted into the esophagus to examine the lining. This can help detect any damage caused by longstanding heartburn and allow for early treatment of any complications.

Conclusion

While occasional heartburn is usually not a cause for concern, longstanding heartburn can lead to serious complications. These can include esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus, esophageal strictures, dental problems, and respiratory problems. If you experience frequent heartburn, it is important to seek medical attention to prevent complications. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes and medications, and in some cases, an endoscopy may be necessary to detect any damage caused by longstanding heartburn.

References:
Katz PO, Gerson LB, Vela MF. Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Am J Gastroenterol. 2013;108(3):308-328.
Kahrilas PJ, Shaheen NJ, Vaezi MF, et al. American Gastroenterological Association Institute technical review on the management of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Gastroenterology. 2008;135(4):1392-1413.
El-Serag HB, Sweet S, Winchester CC, Dent J. Update on the epidemiology of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: a systematic review. Gut. 2014;63(6):871-880.

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