Man suffering from gastric reflux after dinnerAcid reflux is something a lot of people just kind of push to the side. It’s rather common, and popping a couple of pills when it arises is an easy enough fix.

Most people barely think about it all. But if it is ignored for too long, it could lead to serious complications.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is when there is acid and chemical damage to the lining of the esophagus. Although your stomach is built to withstand the effects of acid, the esophagus has less strength against its effects.

Heartburn is a key symptom of reflux disease, but the disease is much more involved than just that one symptom. Other symptoms can include feeling like you’ve got a lump in your throat, having difficulty swallowing, chest pain, coughing, or having worsening asthma-like symptoms.

Further complications of reflux disease can include esophagitis, which is inflammation at the bottom of the esophagus. If persistent, it can lead to scarring and restricted function.

It may lead to a condition called Barrett’s esophagus over time. That is when the lining of the esophagus becomes damaged by acid reflux. It could lead to failure of the valve between the stomach and esophagus, which is supposed to keep acid in the stomach. The result could be further damage to the esophagus caused by acid and other chemicals.
People with Barrett’s disease are at higher risk for even more severe issues with no symptoms. Regular check-ups are a must.

Risks for the condition include being a white man over 50, having a family history of esophageal issues, and smoking. Other risk factors are excess abdominal fat or reflux disease lasting more than five years.

Treatment for the condition depends on the extent of the damage and a person’s overall health.

A good place to start is to avoid coffee, alcohol, and smoking. It may also be treated with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). Barrett’s disease affects 10 to 15 percent of people with GERD.

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