GERD is a Progressive Disease
As GERD becomes more frequent and thus more destructive, the sensitive lining of the esophagus – which is not used to the harsh acidic components that are found in the stomach – begins to break down. Over time, as reflux erodes the esophagus’ protective layers and further irritates and inflames the esophageal lining, patients can develop a condition called erosive esophagitis. Esophagitis can progress and lead to major complications including bleeding, stricture, or difficulty swallowing. It can also lead to Barrett’s Esophagus, which is a precursor for esophageal cancer.
As the damage to the lining of the esophagus continues with chronic uncontrolled reflux, esophagitis can occur. Esophagitis is irritation and inflammation of the esophagus and is classified into categories based on the severity of destruction to the esophageal lining. This raw red irritating condition can be quite painful.
A stricture is a narrowing or tightening of the esophagus due to the formation of scar tissue. Scar tissue is a part of the body’s natural healing process and can occur in GERD patients who have had episodes of esophagitis or other GERD-related complications. As the esophagus heals and scar tissue forms, it could create a tight narrowing of the esophageal lumen, making it difficult to swallow.
Barrett’s Esophagus is a condition where the cells in the lining of the esophagus attempt to adapt to the reflux contents they encounter and start to change to become more like the cells found in the stomach/GI tract. This precancerous change occurs in 10-15% of people with reflux disease.1 Patients with this condition have a 40 times greater risk of developing adenocarcinoma, a type of esophageal cancer.2 It is very important for patients with a GERD diagnosis to continue to monitor the progress of their disease by receiving regularly scheduled upper endoscopies.
The incidence of adenocarcinoma – the type of esophageal cancer linked to GERD – has risen significantly over the past few decades. When you have been diagnosed with GERD, it is very important to continue regular visits to your treating physician, to monitor any progression of the disease. Because a patient with Barrett’s Esophagus is at greater risk of developing esophageal cancer, regular upper endoscopies are very important to ensure that Barrett’s isn’t progressing.