Do you ignore a warning sign on the road? Do you assume it is misplaced or that it’s probably not a big deal? Of course not! You understand that warning signs strategically alert you of an impending danger and you adjust your course of action. You slow down or take another route. When it comes to your health, you should be just as diligent to heed warning signs. If you experience heartburn, you may be tempted to believe that, although uncomfortable or inconvenient, it’s not a big deal. In reality, heartburn may be a warning sign of a more dangerous GI issue.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
Heartburn is the sensation we use to describe an irritation in the esophagus caused by the presence of stomach acid. Digestive juices in the stomach are not meant to flow back into the esophagus, but they often do when the esophageal sphincter—the muscle in between the stomach and the esophagus—is weak. Frequent heartburn is the primary warning sign of a weak esophageal sphincter that is usually associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). While a small percentage of heartburn-suffering Americans are diagnosed with GERD, it is crucial that you address this gastric problem before it escalates into a more serious disease.
In many cases, Barrett’s esophagus is linked to severe cases of GERD paired with a longevity of heartburn symptoms. A complication of GERD, Barrett’s esophagus occurs when the tissue lining the esophagus changes and begins to resemble that of the intestine. Research indicates that adenocarcinoma (a form of esophageal cancer) begins in Barrett’s tissue, but catching and treating Barrett’s esophagus early can prevent cancer from forming. Middle-aged Caucasian men with GERD have the highest risk of Barrett’s esophagus, especially those who experienced heartburn frequently over a long period of time. An upper endoscopy of the esophagus will determine the presence of Barrett’s esophagus and allow your GI doctor to determine the best course of action to remove Barrett’s tissue.
If heartburn is a warning sign for GERD, Barrett’s esophagus is a warning sign for esophageal cancer. Adenocarcinoma is the most common form of esophageal cancer in America and is most prevalent in white men. It occurs when the esophageal tissue mutates and cells divide too quickly. Esophageal cancer is currently the sixth leading cause of cancer deaths and its presence is increasing. Adenocarcinoma is difficult to treat through radiation, which is why early detection is necessary. You may avoid an esophageal cancer diagnosis by regularly screening Barrett’s tissue. Barrett’s esophagus may be avoided by managing GERD effectively. Managing GERD well can only happen if you heed the warning of heartburn. If you have questions about GERD or want to speak to a GI specialist about your frequent heartburn, make an appointment with GI Associates & Endoscopy Center today. Take care of your heartburn today and you may avoid a more dangerous diagnosis.