If you have symptoms of acid reflux then you should not ignore them. You should see your doctor right away to receive treatment. Acid reflux can lead to four major complications if it is not treated right away by a medical professional. These complications include esophageal cancer, Barrett's esophagus, esophagitis and esophageal strictures.
Esophageal cancer is a tumor that starts to grow on the lining of the esophagus. This tumor can eventually grow through the wall of the esophagus, which can then cause cancer to spread to other parts of the body through the blood or the lymphatic system.
The symptoms of esophageal cancer include heartburn, difficulty swallowing, and the inability to swallow solids and eventually liquids, painful swallowing, food sticking in the esophagus, weight loss, regurgitation of food and vomiting of blood or the passing of blood in bowel movements.
To diagnose esophageal cancer a doctor will perform four possible tests including endoscopy, barium x-rays, computed tomography and a CT scan. The treatment of esophageal cancer depends largely on what stage it is in at the time the doctor diagnosis it and whether or not it has spread to other organs.
Barrett's esophagus is a condition where the esophagus changes and some of its lining is replaced by a form of tissue usually only found in the intestine. This process can also be called intestinal metaplasia. Barrett's esophagus can lead to a rare cancer known as esophageal adenocarcinoma. Barrett's esophagus is commonly associated with acid reflux.
The average age of a person with Barrett's esophagus is sixty, but this is often because it is difficult for doctors to tell when the process actually started and it is believed it can start earlier in life. It can only be diagnosed through endoscopy or biopsy and even then, it can be extremely difficult to diagnose. Most of the time by the time it is diagnosed it is too late to start treatment.
Esophagitis is an inflammation and swelling of the esophagus. This is commonly caused when the acid in the stomach backs up into the esophagus. If left untreated this condition can become very uncomfortable for an individual and it can eventually lead to difficulty swallowing, ulcers in the esophagus or scarring of the esophagus.
Symptoms include difficulty swallowing, painful swallowing, burning sensation in esophagus, acid reflux and oral lesions. A doctor will perform an endoscopy, barium x-ray, biopsy or culture to diagnose. Once it is diagnosed, it can be treated through medications that reduce the acid caused by acid reflux disease or with antibiotics if the infection is becoming more severe.
Esophageal strictures in the gradual narrowing of the esophagus are a concern as well. These strictures are caused by the scar tissue that builds up in the esophagus. Acid reflux can often cause the tissue scarring that leads to this condition. If the condition gets worse, it can lead to inflammation.
Symptoms include difficulty or discomfort when swallowing, regurgitation of food and weight loss. A barium x-ray or endoscopy is done to diagnose the condition. Treatment includes the stretching of the esophagus, the prescription of proton pump inhibitors or surgical treatment.