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Everyone has heartburn once in a while, but if you have it daily and it’s accompanied by other symptoms, it could be a sign of something more serious.
Frequent heartburn is often caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In people with GERD, the contents of the stomach back up into the esophagus. Depending on its severity, GERD is treated with medication or sometimes surgery.
When other symptoms accompany daily heartburn, though, that’s a sign it could be more than GERD. Symptoms to look for include trouble swallowing, regurgitation, chronic cough, hoarseness, chest pain or rectal bleeding. Waking up at night coughing or choking is another cause for possible concern.
“People with those symptoms seem to be at particularly high risk for developing complications or problems,” says J. Steven Burdick, MD, a gastroenterologist on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas. “Chronic reflux can cause a cancer of the esophagus that’s one of the fastest-growing forms of cancer in the United States.”
Fortunately, it’s a preventable form of cancer when recognized early. Because obesity is a factor in GERD, losing weight is an important preventive measure. Lifestyle changes can make a difference, too, such as avoiding carbonated beverages, alcohol and acidic foods such as tomato sauce.
Controlling GERD with medication or surgery can also help prevent the development of cancer associated with reflux, Dr. Burdick says.
Because early detection is so important, it’s smart to see a specialist if you’re experiencing significant symptoms. Fairly simple tests can identify exactly what’s going on.
“Sometimes the problem is something other than reflux,” Dr. Burdick says, “but once we diagnose it then we can treat it.”
Attend a free seminar on Tuesday, January 15 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at Baylor Medical Center at Carrollton. Call 1.800.4BAYLOR to register.
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