You know what to do for heartburn: pop a couple of antacids after dinner, avoid common triggers like fatty, greasy, or spicy foods, and hope it goes away quickly. Right? Well, not necessarily. If you have regular heartburn—two or more times a week—and haven't notified your doctor, you're ignoring one of the BIGGEST RISK FACTORS FOR ESOPHAGEAL CANCER!!! And even if you had heartburn problems years ago and they seem to have gone away, this is one health issue you shouldn't ignore 1 ! N!!! People usually feel heartburn as a burning sensation or pain behind the breastbone, neck, throat or mouth. Often, regurgitation of bitter-tasting stomach acid accompanies heartburn, which can be extremely harmful to tooth enamel. An antacid or milk is only a temporary relief.
Esophageal cancer is more common in men than women by about a three-to-one ratio, and most common for both sexes after the age of 55. An estimated 17,460 new cases will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year, according to the American Cancer Society, making it relatively rare among cancers (by comparison, about 226,870 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer). Unfortunately, the survival rates for esophageal cancer are grimmer than many other types: only about 15 to 20% of patients will survive for more than 5 years after diagnosis.
Why Does Heartburn Occur?
A sphincter (specialized muscle) is located at the end of the esophagus. It is known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES muscle should only open when food or liquid is passed into the stomach. However, the LES muscle does not always work perfectly. Sometimes it is too weak to stay completely closed, and stomach juices seep back into the esophagus. There are certain factors that contribute to acid reflux. The most common is eating a large meal whiich may cause pressure in the stomach to rise, and overpowers the LES muscle. The following are other factors that may cause reflux:
- Nicotine (any tobacco product)
- Fried or fatty foods
- Caffeine (coffee, tea, colas, chocolate)
- Citrus fruits and juices
- Peppermint and Spearmint
- Lying flat
- Hiatus hernia
- Certain prescription medicines
Complications of GERD (GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease)
In some people, acid in the lower esophagus actually causes tissue damage. Certain complications can then result:
- Weakening of tooth enamel.
- Chronic bleeding and anemia.
- Scar formation and narrowing of the lower esophagus.
- Barrett’s esophagus can occur when reflux irritates the lower esophagus over a long period of time. The stomach lining then actually grows into the esophagus. In these cases, there is a slight, but definite, risk of cancer developing.
- Lung problems can develop when reflux results in stomach fluid trickling into the breathing tubes. It often occurs at night and may cause wheezing, bronchitis, and even pneumonia.
Treatment of GERD
There are general measures the patient can take to reduce reflux:
- Eat smaller and more frequent meals.
- Do not lie down immediately after eating, and avoid eating for several hours before going to bed.
- Excessive bending, lifting, abdominal exercises, girdles, and tight belts all increase abdominal pressure and provoke reflux.
- If overweight, lose weight. Being overweight promotes reflux.
- Stop using all tobacco; nicotine weakens the LES.
- Avoid fatty foods, alcohol, coffee, chocolate, and peppermint.
- Elevate the head of the bed 8″ to 10″ so gravity keeps stomach juices out of the esophagus while the patient sleeps.
- Certain prescription or over-the-counter medications can weaken the LES or aggravate reflux. Review all medications you are taking with the physician.
Other treatments include:
- OTC Antacids offer temporary relief.
- Drugs — Medicines are now available that effectively reduce and even eliminate the secretion of stomach acid and increase the strength of the LES muscle. The most potent of these are called proton pump inhibitors.
- Surgery — Surgery is rarely required in treating reflux. A newer method of performing anti-reflux surgery is by laparoscopic technique. Surgery, however, is not always permanently successful and there can be complications.
- Heartburn occurs so commonly that people think it is normal to experience it at some time. However, when heartburn is persistent, it needs to be evaluated, and long-term follow-up care is often required. Medical treatment is usually very effective and can prevent complications. For the few patients who are not helped by medical treatment, surgery offers a viable and usually successful alternative.
- Almost everyone has experienced heartburn. About 25 million American adults suffer daily from heartburn. It is that burning sensation felt behind the breastbone and sometimes in the neck, throat and mouth. Heartburn is caused by stomach acid refluxing or splashing up into the esophagus. Anyone who has heartburn on a regular basis should consult a physician. Constant exposure to stomach acid can irritate the lining of the esophagus and cause other medical and dental problems.