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Got GERD?

Many of us suffer from heartburn and acid reflux, and many people are taking medications to treat the symptoms of these conditions. But could treating those symptoms be masking a more serious problem?

According to Cliff Cranford, M.D., a general surgeon at Piedmont Newnan Hospital who specializes in heartburn and heartburn-related problems, the terms heartburn, acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are all related.

“The stomach produces acid and when the acid goes north into the swallowing tube, it causes the symptoms of GERD,” he says.

GERD’s symptoms

“The esophageal or swallowing tube lining is not used to acidity, and the acids can cause ulcerations and long-term cellular damage that can lead to neoplastic or malignant changes,” says Dr. Cranford. “Around 1975, it was noted that change in the cellular structure was associated with esophageal cancer."

Treating GERD

One of the most widely prescribed treatments for GERD is protein pump inhibitors (PPIs), says Dr. Cranford.

“Protein pump inhibitors work by blocking those cells that produce acid. They block the cells that take in a proton and put out acid,” he says.

One study found that people who took PPIs were still at risk of developing esophageal cancer. At first this sounds paradoxical, but it makes sense, he says.

“If you are still refluxing while taking PPIs, you are cutting down the acids and decreasing the symptoms, but the problem of acid reflux is still occurring,” says Dr. Cranford. “If the reflux of gastric contents is what causes esophageal cancer, then the patient is still at risk.”

What would Dr. Cranford tell his patients who have been taking PPIs for a long period of time?

“Now that we know reflux is very common and that it causes esophageal cancer – which is increasing in occurrence – it only makes sense that we evaluate the data so that we know how to screen for it and once we find problems, how to deal with them,” he says.

Remember, GERD is not a benign condition, so talk to your doctor if you have had reflux or if you are on protein pump inhibitors about whether or not you should be screened for esophageal cancer.

Learn more about heartburn treatment and the Piedmont Heartburn Treatment Center.

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