Disorders of the esophagus can include acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Barrett’s Esophagus and esophageal cancer.
Acid Reflux Disease
Also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), acid reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter does not close all the way or opens too often, allowing stomach acid to escape into the esophagus, thus irritating the lining.
- Heartburn: burning pain or discomfort that can move from the stomach to the middle of the abdomen and chest
- Regurgitation: the sensation of acid backing up into your throat or mouth, producing a sour or bitter taste
- Stomach discomfort (dyspepsia): can include burping, nausea after eating, stomach fullness, bloating, upper abdominal pain and discomfort
- Sore throat
Heartburn and GERD are often confused, so in order to come to a proper diagnosis, symptoms must be present at least two times on a regular basis. The physician will perform an endoscopy if symptoms persist, and will determine if there are more serious disorders present. If the results of the endoscopy are normal, the physician may require more in depth studies to collect more information about your specific symptoms.
Treatment for acid reflux disease or GERD can range from prescription treatment to surgery. Once you have received your diagnosis, you and your physician will decide what treatment plan is right for you.
Barrett’s Esophagus is a complication of acid reflux or GERD. Because the lower esophageal sphincter is weakened, it allows stomach acid to flow back (reflux) into the esophagus. The esophagus is not meant to come into contact with stomach acid so in response to this, the esophagus protects itself by forming a stronger lining, resembling the lining of the intestine. This change to the lining of the esophagus is not cancerous in itself, but does make it more likely that esophageal cancer could develop in the future.
Not everyone with acid reflux or GERD will develop Barrett’s Esophagus. To diagnose Barrett’s, the physician will perform an upper endoscopy and a biopsy to examine the tissue and confirm the diagnosis. From there, regular testing may be necessary to monitor the condition.
Treating Barrett’s Esophagus is focused on controlling acid reflux/GERD, whether through lifestyle changes, medication or even surgery.
The exact cause of most esophageal cancers is not yet known. There are known risk factors including those involving the use of tobacco or alcohol, long-term irritation of the lining of the esophagus by acid reflux or GERD, and other factors that may lead to cell damage.
For a comprehensive overview of the causes, risk factors, detection and treatment of esophageal cancer, click here.
All information obtained with permission from ASGE.org and Gastro.org