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The Dangers Of Untreated Reflux Acid

Feb 22, 2008
Knowing how to modify your diet to treat and prevent acid reflux is very important if you suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), because long-term and frequent reflux acid can lead to many serious health complications that, in rare cases, can even be life threatening.

What type of problems can occur? Constant occurrences of acid refluxed into the esophagus can eventually lead to inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis). If the inflammation isn't allowed to heal, other health complications can result such as:

Coughing and asthma attacks -Refluxed acid can stimulate nerves within the esophagus related to the lungs. This can lead to a constriction of the airways triggering coughing in non-asthmatics, and can result in an asthma attack in those who suffer from asthma.

Aside from acid aggravating nerves linked to the lungs, aspiration (acid refluxed into the lungs) can occur. Aspiration can cause inflammation within the lungs, leading to symptoms such as coughing, choking, and/or shortness of breath. Continuous lung inflammation can result in scarring on the lungs, as well as lung infections that can cause pneumonia.

Ulcers - Prolonged esophagitis can lead to damage in the esophagus lining. Once damaged, reflux acid can break through the esophagus lining and a lesion known as an ulcer can form where the tissue surface of the esophagus wall has been eaten away by the acid. Ulcers are often painful because they can trigger additional inflammation that causes erosion of the esophageal blood vessels, which, in turn, can lead to bleeding in the esophagus. If bleeding becomes severe, a person may require a blood transfusion or surgery. Ulcers can heal by forming scar tissue once inflammation stops.

Strictures - A stricture occurs when the inner cavity of the esophagus unnaturally shrinks and narrows due to the scar tissue of a healed ulcer. A severe stricture can cause swallowed food to become stuck in the esophagus. If the food cannot pass through the esophagus, a person may have to have the food surgically removed, as well as undergo a procedure that stretches the stricture.

Barrett's esophagus - Approximately 10% of people with GERD will develop a condition known as Barrett's esophagus. Barrett's esophagus usually occurs when the lower esophagus has been damaged by prolonged reflux acid which causes the cells that exist there to undergo metaplasia (cellular change). Metaplasia changes the composition of the cells that line the lower esophagus wall, and also changes the color of the esophagus from its healthy pink to a salmon color. The cellular change occurs so that the cells in the esophagus closely match those that exist within the stomach and intestine to help them better withstand the acid exposure. Although this may sound beneficial to GERD sufferers, the reality is that Barrett's esophagus can be very painful and the cellular change increases the risk of esophageal cancer.

Esophageal cancer - Esophageal cancer occurs in the inner layer of the esophagus and usually develops from Barrett's esophagus. Although esophageal cancer is very serious and life threatening, it is estimated that less than 1% of people with Barrett's esophagus will actually develop esophageal cancer. Therefore, while the risk is there, it is minimal, especially for those who treat their acid reflux and have their Barrett's esophagus condition closely monitored by their gastroenterologist.

The complications related to reflux acid can be avoided by simply learning how to prevent acid reflux before it occurs. Speak to your doctor about the best treatment methods for your GERD condition.
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