Over 60 million Americans have heartburn at least once a month. Chances are, you're one of these Americans.
But did you know that the heartburn you experience may be more serious than you think it is? It may cause more than just an upset stomach. In fact, it's one of the most common symptoms of acid reflux disease.
In this article, we'll discuss the many dangers and solutions to untreated acid reflux disease so you know what to watch out for.
What Is Acid Reflux Disease?
Acid reflux disease is when you get a burning pain in your chest area. This is why it's called heartburn!
It may feel like something's happening with your heart, which may lead you to think it's a heart attack. But instead, it's just the burning sensation you feel when stomach acid flows back through your esophagus. It doesn't usually belong there, which is what causes the burning sensation.
Most often, acid reflux happens a little after you've just eaten. You may feel the symptoms more if you lay down, as gravity causes the stomach acid to flow back into your esophagus better.
If you have acid reflux disease, you may also have what's also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Your doctor may diagnose you with GERD if you get acid reflux more than two times a week.
What Can Untreated Acid Reflux Lead To?
If you aren't aware of having acid reflux, or you choose not to take action for whatever reason, this can lead to several bad effects on your health. Take a look below to see what they are.
A Damaged Esophagus
With enough time, you'll end up with a damaged esophagus, as the lining there isn't built to withstand harsh stomach acid. Resulting problems include:
- Esophageal ulcers
- Esophageal stricture
- Barrett's esophagus
A Higher Chance of Getting Esophagus Cancer
Because your healthy cells are getting damaged by stomach acid, this can cause some abnormal changes. In some cases, this can result in esophagus cancer.
For instance, Barrett's esophagus (which happens in 10 to 15% of GERD patients) is when your esophagus' lining gets replaced with lining that's similar to what's found in your intestines.
This big change leads to a 0.5% chance of getting esophageal cancer. While this number isn't very high at all, it still means you have a slightly higher chance of getting esophagus cancer.
Since with heartburn, your stomach is coming out of your stomach, it may go as far as your teeth. Some people who have GERD regurgitate food often, which will have stomach acid.
Over time, this can start damaging your teeth. This is because the harsh stomach acid can dissolve your teeth's enamel, which is what protects them from harmful bacteria. As a result, you may start experiencing weaker teeth that are more prone to cavities.
How to Treat Acid Reflux
If you feel you have untreated acid reflux, there are several steps you can take to try and alleviate it. Let's explore the solutions for acid reflux that can be tried out before you seek medical help.
Eat a Healthier Diet
First of all, you should try changing your diet to a healthier one. Many unhealthy foods (such as fast food, fried foods, soda, chocolate, and alcohol) are triggers of acid reflux. Try to eliminate or at least reduce the amount you eat.
By doing so, not only do you get rid of a significant number of triggers, but you may inadvertently lose weight as well. Obesity can be a trigger for acid reflux, as your gut may be so big it increases pressure on your abdomen. As a result, this may cause acid to either leak or backflow more easily.
Eat Smaller Meals More Frequently
If you eat huge meals, this distends your stomach. And the more distension there is, the less likely your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) will close properly. Your LES is responsible for keeping stomach acid in your stomach and not in the esophagus.
To help your LES out, you should break up your regular meals and eat smaller ones throughout the day. This can help keep acid reflux in check. You should also try eating slower, as eating too quickly can trigger this condition as well.
Don't Eat Before Bed
Try not to eat 2 or 3 hours before bed. Since your stomach is still digesting and you'll be lying down, this can cause stomach acid to overflow out to your esophagus more easily.
You probably already know that smoking is bad for you for a whole list of reasons. But here's another one to add to the list: it's an acid reflux trigger. So there's no time better than now to quit!
Sleep With Your Head Elevated
Even without eating, being in a horizontal position makes your LES's job more difficult. You should sleep in an almost sitting-up position. Just sleeping on 2 pillows usually isn't enough and will still trigger acid reflux.
Stop Wearing Tight Clothes
Tight clothes can put extra pressure on your abdomen, which can then trigger acid reflux. By wearing roomier slacks and getting rid of your belts, this can help immensely.
Take Care of Your Acid Reflux Today
If you've tried all those steps to try and address your untreated acid reflux, and it's still causing you problems, then it may be time to see a doctor. They can thoroughly examine you and determine if more serious actions need to be taken.
If you believe you have untreated acid reflux, you shouldn't wait any longer to get treatment. Make an appointment with Dr. Starpoli and get the medical support you need.