GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease is a disorder of the digestive system that directly attacks the muscles between the esophagus and stomach and affects the lower portion of the esophageal sphincter. There are several patients, commonly pregnant woman, who suffer from acidic indigestion which is caused by GERD. In maximum number of cases, one can get rid of GERD with a little change in the lifestyle. In some case, medication or surgery might be required.
Gastroesophageal reflux is the condition where the contents of the stomach are brought back to esophagus. In the natural and normal process of digestion, the lower part of the esophageal sphincter opens up and allows the food contents to move and then naturally closes to prevent passing of acidic juices from stomach to reach back the esophagus. When this reflux is weak, the lower region of the esophageal sphincter acts inappropriately and it relaxes which allows the stomach’s food and acidic content to stream back in the esophagus. The major symptom of GERD is heartburn. It gives a chronic chest pain with a burning sensation.
GERD can lead to repeated vomiting or coughing and other problems in the respiratory system. Pain caused due to heartburn is often mistaken as a pain for some heart disease or heart attack. Therefore, it is very important to seek immediate medical help in case of any sort of chest pain. The pain may increase in case of heart disease during any physical activity in other cases it might give relief. It is also thought to cause cancer.
Does GERD Always Lead To Cancer?
People with GERD have a comparatively higher risk of getting cancer or adenocarcinoma in the esophagus. This particular condition of the esophagus does not have much linkage to what leads to esophageal cancer. Rather, it might lead to a much higher risk of the cause of Barrett’s esophagus. Nevertheless, chronic and prolonged acid reflux may expose you to the risk of esophageal cancer.
The chronic acid reflux changes the lining of the esophagus and replaces it with tissues that are found in the intestine. The longer a person is diagnosed with this reflux; the person is more likely to get Barrett’s esophagus. At times, the condition encourages the development of precancerous cells leading to higher risk of esophageal cancer. It is essential to mention that people with both Barrett’s esophagus and GERD are highly at risk to develop cancer in the esophagus rather than patients with only GERD.
Heartburn is the most common symptom of Barrett’s, but some people might not experience it also. People with Barrett’s esophagus condition are most likely to develop adenocarcinoma in the esophagus. Even after developing this syndrome they are not 100 percent likely to be a victim of esophageal cancer.
How Is Esophageal Cancer Diagnosed?
If any of the symptoms of an esophageal cancer is observed, one must consult a doctor immediately. The symptoms are:
- Hoarseness in the throat
- Prolonged cough
- Increased heartburn and acidity
- Esophagus bleeding.
The doctor will immediately send the patient for a number of tests to examine the condition of the patient. Namely the few of the major tests that will be made to perform are:
- Endoscopy: Where a tube with a small camera is inserted through the food pipe to have a thorough examination of the tissue of the esophagus. The doctor may also take the tissue for a biopsy test to find out the presence of cancer cells.
- Barium Swallow Test: This is also a kind of test where the patient is made to drink a chalky liquid which would line up the esophagus. This test is done to find out whether esophagus cancer is positive or not.
- CT Scan: In case there is cancer cells detected, doctor might ask the patient to undergo a CT scan to find out where or to what extent have the cancer cells spread.
Treatment For GERD
In case a person is diagnosed with esophageal cancer, the treatment options available are:
Irrespective of the fact which method of treatment is chosen for the patient, it is very necessary to reduce the acidic reflux by bringing in a change in lifestyle and food consumption.
The most common treatment for GERD that doctors recommend mainly is major changes in the dietary plan and daily lifestyle. The treatment is given to lower the reflux amount and to prevent the esophagus lining from any further damage. Some sort of lifestyle changes can be:
- Intake of smaller portions of meals
- Avoid eating snacks before going to bed
- Raise your head while lying down by 6 inches
- Quit smoking
- Stop fatty food
- Reduce alcohol, chocolates and coffee
- In case of obesity, lose weight.
Doctors might often give antacids along with lifestyle and dietary changes. Antacid can actually help stop the heartburn by neutralizing the acidic reaction in the stomach and going up to the esophagus. Now, using antacids for a prolonged period of time is not very healthy. It might lead to some prominent side effects such as diarrhea, calcium metabolism; it might also increase the magnesium in the body.
People with GERD might not be relieved from it with the help of antacids always; in this case doctors might have to make the patient undergo numerous tests and examinations. A very small number of people with GERD might need a surgical help. If the patient has severe acidic reflux and not much affect is gained from the medication, then a surgery might have to be carried out. This is the last option for this treatment.
Although, GERD patients can complain about limited daily activities or reduced productivity, it is not dangerously life-threatening. No disease for a longer period of time is good for anyone; therefore proper treatment is very essential. With proper diagnosis, care and treatment at the right time most people are expected to be relieved from GERD.