Complications Associated With GERD
The stomach and esophagus are anatomically separated because of an important but corrosive bodily fluid – stomach acid. While the lining of the stomach is perfectly suited to handle an acidic environment, the esophagus is not. GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease or GERD creates a continuous attack of acid on the esophagus, which in turn can cause inflammation and significant complications. Firstly, we should explore the discomfort the patient will feel as a result of chronic acid reflux. This may include chest pain, nausea, a burning sensation in the chest, bad breath, discolored teeth and a host of other life and lifestyle altering conditions.
While none of these conditions are in and of themselves life-threatening, they signal the possibility of longer-term adverse issues. These complications can include:
- Esophageal stricture, or the narrowing of the esophagus, which is a common condition associated with untreated GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease. Stomach acid causes damage to the esophageal lining and as a result, scar tissue begins to form. This scar tissue begins to build, often causing difficulty swallowing, especially in severe cases
- Because of the acidic contents of the stomach, the sensitive lining of the esophagus can eventually succumb and form an open wound. This is called an esophageal ulcer and is often very painful. Bleeding can occur, but the most common complaint is pain and difficulty swallowing
- Barrett’s esophagus, a condition whereby the cellular lining of the esophagus begins to change, increases the risk of esophageal cancer. A regular endoscopy (where a small camera is passed through the esophagus) will be necessary to monitor the progression of the esophageal cells and monitor for malignancy
Most patients who have advanced symptoms associated with GERD may not have had substantial relief from conventional treatments such as lifestyle change or over-the-counter and prescription medications. They usually suffer through their condition hoping that it resolves itself, but it rarely does. These patients should consider a minimally invasive endoscopic procedure such as TIF (Transoral Incisionless Fundoplication) for the long-term improvement or resolution of their symptoms.