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Heartburn/GERD Health Center

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What Are the Complications of Heartburn and GERD?

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If your acid reflux or GERD is under control, you may have no serious problems from it. But if it's not in check, you may run into some unexpected complications.

If left untreated, acid reflux can cause inflammation and bleeding in the esophagus, the tube that connects your throat to your stomach. Even cancer can happen, but it’s rare. The most important thing is to work with your doctor to manage the condition and avoid these problems.

What Is Esophagitis?

This condition means that your esophagus is inflamed. It can be painful.

It can happen when stomach acid repeatedly washes up from the stomach and onto the lining of the esophagus. The condition can cause bleeding or ulcers and scarring.

Other causes can include some medications and infections.

What Is Barrett's Esophagus?

Risks of leaving heartburn or GERD untreated

GERD makes this condition more likely. Still, it’s rare. Most people with GERD don’t get it. 

In Barrett's esophagus, damage to the cells that line of the esophagus -- for example, by acid reflux from GERD -- causes them to be replaced by cells normally found in the intestines.

People with Barrett’s esophagus are more likely to develop cancer of the esophagus, but it's rare.

What Are the Symptoms of Barrett's Esophagus?

Symptoms may be similar to those of GERD, although some people don't have symptoms.

How Do Doctors Diagnose Barrett's Esophagus?

Your doctor will use a very thin tube called an endoscope to look at the inside of your esophagus.

You may also get a biopsy, in which the doctor uses the endoscope to take a small sample of tissue from your esophagus to test. It’s a quick procedure that doesn’t hurt.

How Is Barrett's Esophagus Treated?

The goal of treatment is to prevent further damage to the esophagus due to acid coming up from the stomach.

Your doctor may recommend a “proton-pump inhibitor” medication such as esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), and omeprazole (Prilosec).  These medications lower the amount of acid your stomach makes.

If they don’t give you enough relief, you may need surgery to tighten the sphincter or "valve" between the esophagus and stomach.

It’s rare, but doctors may remove or use lasers to destroy the problem tissue to treat people at high risk of developing esophageal cancer.

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