Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

What is GERD (acid reflux)? What happens if reflux is left untreated

Dr. Varun Tadkalkar briefs about GERD and recommends early treatment to escape the fatal outcomes

Published: Mar 31, 2023 01:55:08 PM IST

What is GERD (acid reflux)? What happens if reflux is left untreatedGastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a very common digestive disorder and it affects millions of people worldwide with significant clinical implications. It is characterized by acid regurgitation or when stomach contents move back into your esophagus. This is normal and bound to happen from time to time.

GERD is primarily a disorder of the lower esophageal sphincter. When an individual swallow, a band of muscles in the esophagus relaxes to let food and liquid into the stomach. Similarly, it prevents the stomach’s contents from flowing back into the esophagus. However, if the sphincter relaxes too much or becomes too weak, the acidic content of the stomach can flow back into the esophagus, irritating the lining of the esophagus.

GERD is often interchangeably used to describe one of its symptoms, i.e, Acid reflux, also known as heartburn. Acid reflux causes an uncomfortable burning feeling in the chest and throat region of the affected individual. Other symptoms of the digestive condition are nausea, chest pain, chronic cough, bad breath, etc.

Both physiologic and pathologic factors may contribute to its development, including older age, excessive body mass index (BMI), smoking, anxiety/depression, and less physical activity at work. Eating habits can also contribute to GERD, including the acidity of food, as well as the size and timing of meals, particularly concerning sleep.

Acid reflux exposes the tissues in the esophagus to stomach acid. The tissues in the stomach are built to tolerate stomach acid, but the esophagus is made up of sensitive tissues that can be damaged due to the presence of acid. In some cases, damage to the tissues in the oral cavity has been observed caused by the backflow of stomach acid.  

Without treatment, GERD can damage your esophagus and lead to life-threatening health complications down the line. The most common complication of GERD is esophagitis, characterized by inflammation in the tissues of the esophagus tissues. Esophagitis can lead to difficulty swallowing and chest pain. If left untreated, it can eventually damage the lining of the esophagus and cause other complications like scarring, difficulty swallowing, and narrowing of the esophagus. Other conditions associated with GERD are shortness of breath (dyspnea), esophageal ulcers, aspiration pneumonia, esophageal stricture, and esophageal cancer.  

Since we all know that prevention is better than cure, seeking treatment for GERD or acid reflux sooner can help decrease your chances of developing health complications due to GERD. Hence, “Guard against GERD” to improve the overall quality of life. 

Issued in Public Interest by Dr.Reddy's Laboratories LTD

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