Digestion in the body is all about breaking down what we eat and using the materials to fuel our bodies, and your stomach plays a vital role in that process. This J-shaped muscular organ uses specialized enzymes and digestive juices (acids) to break down foods, serving as a temporary storage space for food until it is ready to move into your intestines. The food it breaks down starts at the mouth and goes to your food tube (esophagus) and then to your stomach.
Problems in the lower esophageal sphincter (the valve at the base of your esophagus above your stomach) can lead to issues like gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as acid reflux or GERD. This condition happens to most people, but when it is chronic, it can damage your digestive tract. Let’s examine the complications of chronic GERD by determining the condition, its causes and symptoms, and what happens if it is left untreated.
This condition results from the esophageal sphincter not working, leading to acid from your stomach leaking into your esophagus. If it only happens occasionally, it is generally referred to as acid reflux and gets treated as it happens. However, this can damage the tissue in your esophagus and weaken the sphincter, becoming chronic and causing worse problems for your digestion over time.
When swallowing, the lower esophageal sphincter is supposed to relax to allow foods and drinks ingested to reach your stomach after it closes. Several factors can cause a weakened sphincter or one not functioning, including obesity, pregnancy, delayed stomach emptying, a hiatal hernia, and connective tissue disorders (scleroderma). Other things can aggravate an existing problem, like smoking, late eating, eating large meals, and certain beverages and medications.
Heartburn, a burning sensation in your chest, is the most common sign of this illness. However, other symptoms include regurgitation, problems swallowing, feeling like a lump is in your throat, and upper abdominal or chest pain. Having reflux at night can lead to a persistent cough, laryngitis, and asthma.
If this condition persists and becomes chronic without treatment, it can cause several more severe problems:
This inflammation and irritation of the lining of your esophagus can also create ulcers, bleeding, trouble swallowing, and heartburn.
This condition happens in 10% of people with GERD and creates changes in the cells of your esophagus that lead to risk of cancer.
Two forms of cancer can form here: adenocarcinoma, which can result from Barrett’s esophagus, and squamous cell carcinoma, which is more common in the upper and middle of your food tube.
The lining of your esophagus can become scarred, which can cause it to narrow and make eating and drinking more difficult.
Fortunately, GERD is treatable in its earlier stages, so make an appointment with Dr. Mehta and Lonestar Gastroenterology today to get relief from this and other digestive problems before these complications worsen.