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Newswise — LONDON - Gastroesophageal reflux disease is one of the most common digestive disorders worldwide . It occurs when acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus: the stomach can resist acids but the esophagus is less resistant to acids. James East , MD, a gastroenterologist  at  Mayo Clinic Health Care in London , says reflux can be common, but complications can occur if it persists and is left untreated. 

 Heartburn (heartburn) is one of the main symptoms of reflux disease, but the disease is much more than that. 

says d. East: "Gastroesophageal reflux disease is when a person develops acid and chemical damage to the lining of the esophagus." Some people with reflux may feel a lump in their throat, have trouble swallowing, chest pain, cough, or worsen asthma -like symptoms. 

says d. East: "Complications of reflux disease include  esophagitis , inflammation of the lower part of the esophagus. If this persists, scarring and strictures," or narrowing of the esophagus, can occur. 

Dr. adds. East: If the disease continues untreated, the lining of the esophagus may turn into a more acid-resistant form, known as  Barrett's esophagus , an extremely common complication of reflux.  

Barrett's esophagus is a condition in which the lining of the esophagus is damaged by acid reflux, which causes the lining of the esophagus to become inflamed and red. Over time, the valve between the esophagus and stomach begins to deteriorate, causing chemical and acid damage to the esophagus. In some cases, reflux may cause a change in the cells lining the lower part of the esophagus, causing Barrett's esophagus. 

While persistent heartburn is a sign of illness, many people with Barrett's esophagus do not have any symptoms. Having Barrett's esophagus increases the risk of esophageal cancer. Although the risk of cancer is small, people with Barrett's esophagus should have regular checkups to check for precancerous cells.  

People at higher risk of Barrett's esophagus include:  

  • White men over the age of 50. 
  • People with a family history of Barrett's esophagus or esophageal cancer. 
  • smokers.  
  • Those who suffer from excess fat in the abdominal area.  
  • Patients with prolonged reflux more than five years.  

says d. East: "If you have more than three risk factors, you should have an endoscopy to check for Barrett's esophagus." To examine Barrett's esophagus, a lighted tube with a camera at the end, called an endoscope, is passed down the throat to check for signs of disease of esophageal tissue change. A biopsy is usually done to remove tissue and confirm the diagnosis. 

Treatment for Barrett's esophagus depends on the extent of abnormal cell growth in the esophagus and your general health. Treatment in the early stages includes lifestyle changes and medications that help reduce acid reflux, and thus the exposure of the esophagus to acid.  

says d. East: "Barrett's esophagus affects 10% to 15% of people with reflux disease." A much smaller group faces another danger. 

says d. East: "One out of every 200 people with Barrett's esophagus per year develops esophageal adenocarcinoma . The stomach is tightly designed to withstand high-acid conditions. But the esophagus is not designed to cope with acids. So when acids back up, acid reflux causes cells to be destroyed, and replaced by new cells." More acid-resistant turns into Barrett's esophagus."  

There are  innovative treatments  for reflux disease and drugs such as:  proton pump inhibitors . But first, avoid triggers like coffee, alcohol, and smoking.  

says d. East: “If you have severe or recurring reflux, see your doctor.” 

For more information, visit Mayo Clinic Health Care and the Mayo Clinic News Network 


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