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Complications from GERD

The excessive and repeated exposures to acid due to GERD can damage the esophagus and lead to the following complications:

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) makes it hard for you to breathe. GERD has been linked with pulmonary diseases, such as pneumonia, asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, and chronic bronchitis.

Your airways branch out inside your lungs like an upside-down tree. At the end of each branch are small, balloon-like air sacs. In healthy people, both the airways and air sacs are springy and elastic. When you breathe in, each air sac fills with air like a small balloon. The balloon deflates when you exhale. In COPD, your airways and air sacs lose their shape and become floppy, like a stretched-out rubber band.

Researchers have found that the 37% of patients reporting GERD symptoms were twice as likely to experience COPD exacerbations, compared with those without GERD symptoms. This study appears in the October 2008 issue of CHEST, the peer-reviewed journal of the American College of Chest Physicians.

GERD and Asthma

It is estimated that more than 75% of patients with asthma also experience gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). People with asthma are twice as likely to have GERD as those people who do not have asthma. Of those people with asthma, those who have a severe, chronic form that is resistant to treatment are most likely to also have GERD.

Although studies have shown a relationship between asthma and GERD, the exact relationship is uncertain. GERD may worsen asthma symptoms, however asthma and some asthma medications may worsen GERD symptoms.

There are a few possibilities as to why GERD and asthma may coincide. One possibility is that the acid refluxing injures the lining of the throat, airways and lungs, making inhalation difficult and often causing a persistent cough. Another possibility is that when acid enters the esophagus, a nerve reflex is triggered, causing the airways to narrow in order to prevent the acid from entering. This will cause a shortness of breath. More on GERD and Asthma.

Esophageal ulcers

These ulcers can bleed, causing pain, and making swallowing difficult.
Ulcers can usually be successfully treated by controlling the underlying symptoms of GERD. Prescription medicines are usually prescribed to protect the ulcers from acid, giving it enough time to heal.

Esophageal stricture

Repeated damage to the esophageal lining can lead to the formation of scar tissue. Over time the scar tissue builds up and leads to a narrowing of the esophagus, known as esophageal stricture.

Esophageal stricture can make swallowing food both difficult and painful.
These strictures can be treated by using a tiny balloon to stretch and expand the esophagus (dilation). This procedure is usually carried out under a local anaesthetic.

Barrett's Esophagus

Ongoing GERD can alter the cells lining the lower esophagus and lead to a condition known as Barrett's Esophagus. While these cells are not cancerous, there is a small increased risk that they could become cancerous - 0.5% of people with Barrett's Esophagus develop esophageal cancer. Once diagnosed with Barrett's Esophagus, it is important to undergo regular endoscopies to monitor the condition of the affected cells.

To reduce the risk of cancer developing, an endoscope may be used to destroy the abnormal cells by using heat waves, or lasers.

Esophageal cancer

Esophageal cancer occurs when a tumor forms on the lining of the esophagus. In its most devastating form, this tumor can grow through the wall of the esophagus and spread the cancer to other parts of the body through the blood stream or the lymphatic system.
Cancer that begins in the esophagus is divided into two major types:
Squamous cell carcinoma — This type of cancer begins in the cells (squamous cells) that line the esophagus. This cancer usually affects the upper and middle part of the esophagus. Risk factors include smoking and heavy alcohol use.
Adenocarcinoma — This type of cancer can arise from Barrett’s esophagus, usually developing in the lower part of the esophagus.

Esophageal cancer in its early stages often has no symptoms. Difficulty swallowing is the most common symptom of esophageal cancer. As the cancer grows, it narrows the opening of the esophagus, making swallowing difficult and/or painful. Food may become lodged in the esophagus. Vomiting blood or passing blood in bowel movements are other possible symptoms.

Complications from GERD - References

By Mortin - Copyright 2010
Last modification 05/02/2010