It is common to experience a little heartburn after eating spicy foods or drinking alcohol. It may feel like chest pain or burning after eating, a sour taste in the back of the throat or hoarseness. But suffering daily, long-lasting or frequent heartburn symptoms should not be ignored and may indicate a more serious condition.
As many as 15 million Americans suffer from daily heartburn, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This chronic but treatable condition refers to irritation and damage to the lining of the esophagus from prolonged exposure to stomach acid. This damage occurs because of a weakening of the valve that separates the esophagus from the stomach which allows acid to leak up into the esophagus.
Typical treatments for GERD may include medication to reduce stomach acid and simple lifestyle changes to help reduce the reflux symptoms – such as avoiding trigger foods, decreasing portion sizes, losing weight, quitting smoking, elevating the head of the bed, and not eating before bedtime.
For certain patients who have had chronic acid reflux, an upper endoscopy may be recommended to assess severity and to uncover any pre-cancerous changes. If GERD is left untreated or unmonitored for a long period of time, it can result in a condition called Barrett’s esophagus which can progress to cancer.
Barrett’s esophagus is a disorder in which the inflamed, acid-damaged cells in the lining of the lower esophagus change to resemble those found in the stomach. As a result of this transformation, Barrett’s patients have an increased risk for esophageal cancer.
At Atlanta Gastroenterology Associates, many of our physicians are specially trained in the treatment of GERD and Barrett’s esophagus. If you’ve noticed that your heartburn symptoms are frequent, severe, longstanding, or getting worse, schedule an appointment with us today.