Question: What are some of the complications that can occur if I don't try to resolve my GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)?
Answer: There are both short term and long term complications of untreated gastroesophageal reflux. In the short term patients can experience something called erosive esophagitis, which is a condition that's often diagnosed with an upper endoscopy, in which a camera is inserted into the esophagus to visualize the lining of the esophagus. This condition results in an erosion or inflammation in the lining of the lower esophagus and can result in bleeding or trouble swallowing.
This condition if untreated can progress over many years to a condition known as Barret's esophagus, one of the major long term complications. Barret's esophagus is a changing in the lining of the esophagus from one type of cell to another and it's important because it increases the patients risk for development of esophageal cancer. Esophageal cancer's becoming an increasing health problem amongst men and its incidence is rising dramatically over the past decade or two. One thought for the increase in this cancer is that men are experiencing more and more gastroesophageal reflux leading to Barret's esophagus and eventually the development of esophageal cancer.
The second major long term complication of untreated reflux is the development of something called an esophageal stricture. This is a narrowing of the esophagus that occurs due to scarring from long standing reflux. This diagnosis is often made again with an upper endoscopy. In patients who may present to the physician complaining of swallowing, treatment usually involved a stretching of this narrowing, often again, done through an endoscopy procedure.