Otherwise known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), acid reflux can be both an acute and chronic issue. The condition occurs when stomach acid flows from the stomach back to the oesophagus – which connects the organ to the throat. For most people, it will happen occasionally, but long-term untreated chronic GERD can lead to permanent damage.
How can you tell if acid reflux has caused permanent damage?
The burning sensation caused by stomach acid happens when it coats and inflames the walls of the oesophagus.
Usually, it appears after eating, and severity depends on how much acid flows back out and how high it rises.
People will experience one – or more – of five symptoms.
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Potential GERD complications include:
- Barrett’s oesophagus
- Erosive oesophagitis
- A narrowing oesophagus (known as oesophageal stricture)
- Dental disease
- Asthma flare-ups
According to Harvard Health, Barrett’s oesophagus is among the most concerning GERD-related conditions and can develop to oesophageal cancer.
- Frequent heartburn
- Regurgitation of ingested food or stomach acid
- Trouble swallowing
- Chest pain (less common)
Erosive oesophagitis forms when the oesophageal lining becomes swollen, inflamed or irritated.
- Trouble swallowing
- Feeling a lump in the throat
- Oesophageal burning
- Bleeding either in vomit or stools (can turn poo black and tarry)
Oesophageal strictures develop when GERD causes the throat to tighten, limiting or blocking food.
Many of the symptoms mirror Barrett’s and include burning in the neck or throat, trouble swallowing and feeling of stuck food.
The stricture may also prevent food from travelling down the oesophagus and cause people to choke.
Teeth are common victims of GERD, thanks to the potency of stomach acid.
People who have persistent stomach acid may find their teeth are subject to much more wear and tear.
Studies have also shown a loose connection between GERD and chronic periodontitis, suggesting it could also result from dental issues.
Although GERD comes from the stomach and travels through the throat, it can also affect the lungs.
Stomach acid may also damage the lining airways to the lungs, causing persistent coughs and breathing troubles.
Asthma can also trigger GERD by changing pressure around the chest and abdomen.