Acid Reflux: Can It Be Life-Threatening? [Video]

  • Experiencing occasional acid reflux doesn’t usually cause complications, but frequent acid reflux can lead to serious conditions.
  • GERD may lead to esophageal cancer.
  • Preventing and treating GERD involves lifestyle changes, medications, and even surgery.

It’s common to experience mild acid reflux from time to time. It occurs when your stomach contents rise to your esophagus. However, frequent acid reflux may be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). While GERD isn’t life-threatening, it can cause serious health issues and complications when left untreated.

GERD symptoms

Experiencing acid reflux more than twice a week may indicate GERD, with symptoms that include:

  • bad breath
  • difficulty swallowing
  • nausea
  • heartburn
  • indigestion
  • regurgitation
  • sore throat
  • chest pain
  • cough

GERD complications

Some cases of GERD may lead to serious complications when left untreated. Here are some of those issues:

  1. Esophagitis

Frequent acid reflux can inflame the esophagus. This condition is known as esophagitis and can make swallowing difficult and even painful. It may also cause a sore throat, hoarse voice, and heartburn. When left untreated, chronic esophagitis may lead to esophageal ulcers and strictures and raise your risk of esophageal cancer.

2. Esophageal ulcers

Stomach acid can damage the esophagus lining and cause a painful ulcer known as an esophageal ulcer. Symptoms of esophageal ulcers include:

  • indigestion
  • heartburn
  • pain when swallowing
  • nausea
  • bloody stools
  • a burning sensation in your chest area

Esophageal ulcers sometimes don’t have symptoms but can cause a hole in the esophagus or a bleeding ulcer.

3. Esophageal stricture

Untreated GERD can cause inflammation, scarring, or abnormal tissue growth in the esophagus, resulting in esophageal stricture or a narrower and tighter esophagus. The condition makes swallowing and breathing difficult or painful. There’s also a risk of food getting lodged in the esophagus, which may cause choking or result in malnutrition and dehydration.

4. Aspiration pneumonia

Stomach acid that rises to your esophagus can reach your lungs and cause a lung infection called aspiration pneumonia. Symptoms include:

  • Fever and fatigue
  • deep cough, or wheezing
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • bluish hue on the skin
  • death

5. Barrett’s esophagus

Esophageal damage caused by stomach acid can cause cellular changes to the esophageal lining.

Barrett’s esophagus is a condition where gland cells replace the squamous cells lining the lower esophagus. About 10 to 15 percent of GERD patients get Barrett’s esophagus. Men are twice likely to develop the condition than women. There’s a slight risk for this condition to lead to esophageal cancer.

6. Esophageal cancer

GERD can put you at a slight risk of adenocarcinoma, a certain type of esophageal cancer. The condition affects the lower esophagus and cause:

  • difficulty swallowing
  • coughing
  • chest pain
  • severe indigestion and heartburn
  • weight loss

Often, people only notice symptoms once the cancer has become more advanced.

Preventing complications from acid reflux

Adopting the following habits may help prevent acid reflux and its complications:

  • Avoid greasy, fatty, acidic, and spicy foods.
  • Eat meals 2 to 3 hours before going to bed.
  • Eat smaller portions.
  • Chew slowly.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Sleep with your upper body slightly higher than your stomach.
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing.

See a doctor if you get GERD symptoms several times a week and if you regularly take over-the-counter heartburn medication for heartburn.

Acid reflux treatment

Common medications for acid reflux treatment include:

  • Antacids
  • Prokinetics
  • Proton pump inhibitors
  • H2 blockers

You may need to undergo surgery if these treatments don’t work.

Source: Healthline