A small amount of acid reflux into the esophagus is normal. We have all experienced the occasional heartburn indigestion. However, for those who suffer from reflux symptoms on a daily or basis, the situation is different. Chronic acid reflux is a serious progressive disease that if left unattended will lead to serious complications.
First, patients with chronic acid reflux have a diminished quality of life. Acid reflux symptoms are not pleasant to experience. Imagine splashing your eyes with lemon juice several times a week. This is what happens when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. Patients wake up in the middle of the night with burning pain in their chest radiating up to their throat. They are unable to function next day because they haven’t rested well the night before. Occasionally, pain is so severe that it mimics a heart attack. Heartburn sufferers cannot eat properly for fear of acid reflux symptom recurrence. Over time, patients become dependent on escalating doses of tums and antacid medications. Antacids medications have with significant side effects when taken over long periods of time.
Second, recurrent acid reflux events burn the delicate esophageal lining. The inner lining of the esophagus does not tolerate. As a result, the lining becomes inflamed. Inflammation of the esophagus also called esophagitis leads to ulceration, bleeding and stricture formation. A stricture is a narrowing in the esophageal lumen. A stricture results in difficulty swallowing food as well vomiting and bad odor breath.
Third, untreated acid reflux may lead to esophageal cancer. Esophageal cancer is rising in incidence in Houston. 15 % of patients with acid reflux develop changes in the esophagus that predispose them for cancer. Early diagnosis and control of acid reflux prevents cancer.
In summary, acid reflux is not simply a nuisance. Acid reflux is a disease that if left untreated, can lead to serious health issues.