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GERD: Long-term treatment risks

This article is sponsored by MedStar Washington Hospital Center 

Nearly 20 percent of Americans suffer from regular bouts of heartburn, acid indigestion and other symptoms of chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

GERD is a severe, chronic acid reflux condition in which acidic stomach contents back up into your esophagus. The muscle connecting the stomach to the esophagus is weak or relaxes abnormally, allowing this abnormal movement.

Over the last 20 years, the most popular and effective GERD medications on the market, both prescription and over-the-counter, have been a class of drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).

However, long-term use of PPIs can be harmful to your body, according to Timothy Koch, MD, a gastroenterologist at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

“Over the last few years, there have been many studies looking at whether long-term PPI use contributes to gut infections, bone loss, chronic kidney disease and even dementia,” Dr. Koch says.  “While findings suggest an association, we don’t have any definitive answers yet.”

As a precaution, Dr. Koch recommends that people who have been taking more than one PPI a day for many years seek a medical re-evaluation to see if they still need—and are benefitting from— the medication.

Do you think you might be an individual who suffers from GERD? Here are a few classic symptoms of GERD to look out for:

  1. Heartburn: For many people, acid indigestion (known as heartburn) is more than an occasional annoyance after eating a greasy meal. Research shows that more than 60 million people suffer from this burning sensation that can extend from the breastbone to the neck and throat. Heartburn sufferers may also experience a sore throat, hoarseness, chronic cough, asthma or a feeling of a lump in the throat. Because there can be chest pain associated with GERD, heartburn sometimes is mistaken for heart attack.
  2. Regurgitation: a sensation of acid backed up in the esophagus. Other common symptoms are: feeling that food may be trapped behind the breastbone, heartburn or a burning pain in the chest (under the breastbone), increased by bending, stooping, lying down, or eating, more likely or worse at night, relieved by antacids, nausea after eating

Untreated GERD can damage the food pipe, and contribute to Barrett’s esophagus, a risk factor for esophageal cancer, so it’s important not to ignore.