It's a common ailment and millions have it. But few realize just how dangerous acid reflux can be.
It's a little problem we often joke about, but it could turn into a very big problem.
In fact, it could be coursing through your body right now. Forcing hot bubbling acid to erupt into your throat, maybe even into your lungs.
Think that would be hard to miss? You would be wrong.
Gastroenterologist Dr. Vajravel Prasad says, "Patients get a hoarseness of voice, sore throat and feel like something's in the back of their throat. During the daytime, they just feel fatigued. They have chronic cough, asthma, wheezing and/or difficulty sleeping."
Believe it or not, it all adds up to acid reflux, or GERD, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. It happens when the lower esophageal sphincter doesn't close properly and the contents of your stomach leaks back.
Sometimes it happens during the day, and sometimes at night.
Dr. Prasad says, "There's a lot more damage that happens during the night. When you're lying down, actually your esophagus is actually at a lower level than your stomach. So, when the acid reflux does happen, it hangs out in your esophagus for as much as an hour."
But you won't realize it.
Dr. Prasad says, "A lot of people don't sleep well at night, they don't realize it. They can also cough at night and not realize it. And during the daytime, they just feel fatigued."
For some it happens around the clock. The reason?
Dr. Prasad says the reason is Hiatal Hernia, "The stomach which is suppose to be in your abdomen, projects thru the diaphragm into your chest. What it does is basically make your stomach in two parts. One part is in your chest, there's another part in your stomach."
It all sounds very complicated. And it is. But, as complicated as it sounds, the first line of remedy is very simple, antacids.
Now, that won't heal the hernia that likely started all this, but it will help stop the acid from causing all those symptoms.
There are other medications like H2 Blockers, and Proton Pump Inhibitors. But, first you need an accurate diagnosis, and that's when doctors send a tiny camera down the esophagus to search for clues.
Dr. Prasad says, "This will tell us whether you have a hernia or not. It will also tell us if you've developed complications from the reflux disease."
Complications like, difficulty swallowing, inflammation of the esophagus, esophageal bleeding, ulcers, tissue damage, cancer and barrett's esophagus.
Barrett's has no symptoms, but can develop into esophageal cancer.
Mary Conner, who has barrett's esophagus, doesn't remember any acid reflux symptoms.
She says she didn't have chest pain and nothing she could associate with acid reflux. " It was a very big shock to me."
Dr Prasad watches Mary for any signs of cancer, specifically esophageal adenocarcinoma. One of the fasting growing cancers in the western world.
Meanwhile, since Mary has no symptoms she eats what she wants with a few exceptions.
Randy Blyther had heartburn, the more common symptom of chronic acid reflux. But his symptoms were so severe, he was in pain.
Randy has this advice for you, "Don't worry about it. Don't put it off. Go get checked out. You've only got one body, you need to take care of it."
If you get heartburn once or twice a month, this doesn't apply to you. Acid reflux disease is a chronic problem, something you have at least a couple of times a week.
It happens in thin people, overweight people, tall people, short people, all ages, genders and races are affected.
And when it comes to the symptoms, you might only get one, maybe two. So if any of this sounds like you, see your doctor.
By ignoring it, you could be causing serious damage to your body.
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