Heartburn Is Not To Be Ignored!
NOTE: The information provided below is a result of research I have done on this particular topic, along with my own personal thoughts.
Heartburn and/or indigestion is a common condition experienced by multitudes of individuals all over the world. These symptoms can usually be relieved by ingesting Tums or Pepto Bismol.
However, if you experience heartburn symptoms on a consistent basis (two or more times a week), it's a good idea to see your physician to be evaluated for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). If you are diagnosed with this condition, there are numerous medications your physician can prescribe to take before meals which brings much needed relief.
For those diagnosed with GERD, over time, the constant backwash of stomach acid can irritate and damage your esophagus. If this happens, it can lead to these complications:
-Ulcers - bleeding sores in your esophagus
-Strictures - scar damage that narrows your esophagus and makes it hard to swallow
-Barrett's Esophagus - changes in the cells of your esophagus that can lead to cancer
What I want to address on this Hub is the diagnosis of Barrett's Esophagus.
One out of ten individuals with long term reflux undergo a cellular surrender and conversion resulting in this disease.
An important note to those who experience frequent heartburn and do not bother to see a doctor:
Pain is your body talking to you, telling you something is wrong. If you ignore these symptoms, it's possible your esophagus is undergoing damage. First, you develop GERD. If ignored, GERD can eventually, over time, develop into Barrett's Esophagus. Then, over time, the cells in your esophagus can turn into dysplasia, which means pre-cancer. If not treated, the dysplasia develops into cancer of the esophagus.
This is why it is important to keep in constant touch with your physician.
On a positive note, I read in a brochure that many people who develop Barrett's Esophagus never get cancer. (Statistics are about one person in 200).
However, the diagnosis of Barrett's means that the cells in the lining of the esophagus have changed. A person who has developed Barrett's has a greater RISK of developing cancer.
HOW BARRETT'S ESOPHAGUS IS DIAGNOSED:
Your physician can refer you to a gastroenterologist who will perform a procedure called an Upper GI Endoscopy. A scope is inserted into your esophagus and stomach, with a light and a camera. If the specialist sees anything unusual, he/she can take a specimen to be biopsed.
NOTE: This diagnostic procedure is painless. The patient is given IV Sedation, which includes Versid - a wonderful drug where you do not remember ANY of it. You lay there talking to the physician and the next minute you blink and you are all done!
This is a tremendous life saving procedure.
Although there is no cure for Barrett's Esophagus, it can be monitored. Here are a couple suggestions to minimize the chance of Barrett's worsening...and if you don't have Barretts, perhaps the following can control GERD:
Stay away from foods that give you reflux such as caffeine, chocolate and tomato products.
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and stick to a low-fat, low calorie diet. Maintain a healthy body weight. Avoiding alcoholic beverages and smoking can also help.
Your doctor can recommend a medication best suited for your symptoms.
Sit upright a few hours after eating, and allow at least three to four hours for your food to digest before going to bed.
Alot more information about this disease can be obtained by simply googling "Barrett's Esophagus" on the internet. You will find a wealth of helpful information there.
THE BAD NEWS
After years of GERD, taking numerous medications, multiple x-rays and GI tests, I told my physician this past April I was still having sporadic violent heartburn and that nothing was helping.
Although I had an Endoscopy in 2006 which was normal, he suggested I should schedule another one to rule out Barrett's Esophagus.
An Endoscopy was performed the end of May.
On June 13th, I received the call:
My new diagnosis is Barrett's Esophagus. I have an office visit scheduled with my gastroenterologist in August to discuss this condition. I am currently composing a long list of questions to ask him.
This development has given me pause. And some fear.
My main concern is my family history: My grandfather died of oral cancer, my mother from cancer of the larynx, my daughter has had three surgeries for cancer of the tongue, and my great aunt had 3/4 of her stomach removed.
The good news is that even though I have Barrett's Esophagus, everything is benign at this time. However, I have been informed that the cells COULD change and develop into cancer.
All this being said, I cannot stress enough the importance of listening to your body's signals. Although heartburn is a condition that is so easy to ignore and dismiss, I suggest that anyone who has had periodic indigestion for several years should consider visiting his/her physician for a checkup and to inquire if an Upper GI Endoscopy is necessary.
Finally, as I stated above, only one in ten will develop Barrett's Esophagus (followed by one in 200 that could develop cancer from Barrett's Esophagus).
I thought I was safe! However, as it turns out, I am one of the "one in ten" who has developed Barrett's Esophagus.
Above all, please remember: It is possible that those who do not pay attention to this very important symptom of heartburn could already have Barrett's Esophagus. If ignored, dysplasia (pre-cancer) could develop. If that is ignored, cancer of the esophagus follows which, if not treated, could be fatal.
Finally, I sincerely mean this from the heart: NEVER take your health for granted. Because if you've got your health, you've got EVERYTHING.