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Damage to the Esophagus Caused By Acid Reflux

written by: pbassi • edited by: lrohner • updated: 9/30/2010

Chronic acid reflux is experienced by many and is usually not a problem. However, there are a number of serious complications, including acid reflux damage to the esophagus, that can occur if you ignore the symptoms too long. Learn more about the symptoms of chronic GERD and chronic acid reflux.

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    Chronic Acid Reflux

    Do you ever have an acid taste in the back of your mouth or feel like your food is coming back up after eating? These are symptoms of acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), that occurs when the food or partially digested food in your stomach goes in the wrong direction and ends up back in your esophagus.GERD symptoms can also include a burning sensation in the chest or throat referred to as heartburn.

    While anyone can experience these symptoms from time to time, especially after over indulging or eating spicy foods, they are generally not a cause for concern. However, if you experience these symptoms over long periods of time or do not adequately get chronic GERD treated, there may be some risk of acid reflux damage to the esophagus.

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    Conditions Resulting From Acid Reflux Damage to the Esophagus

    There are several main conditions that may result from acid reflux damage to the esophagus if chronic GERD goes untreated or if treatment is not successful for an extended period of time. Complications include:

    • Esophagitis: This is the medical term for inflammation in your esophagus or the muscular tube that goes from the back of your throat to your stomach. Chronic GERD leads to stomach acid refluxing from your stomach into the esophagus. The acid from the stomach irritates and inflames the esophagus leading to esophagitis.
    • Ulcers and Bleeding Ulcers: The inflammation from chronic acid reflux can also damage the protective lining of the stomach and actually lead to erosions and ulcers. When ulcers develop from chronic acid reflux there is a risk of them bleeding.
    • Strictures: Chronic GERD can also lead to esophageal strictures or narrowing of the esophagus caused by the inflammation and scarring associated with chronic acid reflux. Strictures can cause:
      • A feeling of food getting stuck and not being able to pass normally.
      • Pain when swallowing.
      • Difficulty swallowing foods or feel as though you must change your diet (e.g. eat only liquids or soft foods) in order to eat.
    • Cancer: Chronic acid reflux can lead to changes in the esophagus called Barrett’s esophagus where the lining of the esophagus changes in a process called metaplasia. These cells can eventually become esophageal cancer if chronic acid reflux is not controlled and appropriate treatment undertaken. It is estimated that 1% of those with chronic acid reflux who experience Barrett’s esophagus will develop esophageal cancer.
    • Compound Other Medical Problems: Chronic acid reflux can make a number of diseases worse. If you have a chronic disease that is not getting better or is getting worse you may want to ask your healthcare provider if chronic acid reflux could be making it worse. Conditions include:

    o Asthma

    o Chronic cough

    o Pulmonary fibrosis

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    Points To Remember About the Risk of Damage to the Esophagus Caused by Acid Reflux

    • All of the above conditions can be treated or even prevented by seeing a health care provider if you have chronic acid reflux.
    • Occasional GERD symptoms are normal, but if you experience chronic acid reflux you, should discuss with your physician.
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    References

    National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Accessed September 15, 2010. Heartburn, Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER), and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

    National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Accessed September 15, 2010. Barrett’s Esophagus.

    Shaheen N, Ransohoff DF. Gastroesophageal reflux, Barrett’s esophagus, and esophageal cancer. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2002;287(15):1982–1986.