When Heartburn Becomes Dangerous

In most cases, occasional heartburn can easily be treated with over-the-counter medications. However, when you start to experience symptoms that interfere with your daily life, it is time to see a doctor — you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

“When a person has GERD, the stomach acid that returns into the esophagus can damage it, creating scar tissue that narrows the food pathway, creating difficulty swallowing,” says Michael R. Freeman, MD, gastroenterologist at Saint Francis Medical Center. “It can create open sores, which can bleed and be quite painful. At times, precancerous tissue can also invade the esophagus.”

Freeman-Michael_MG_0104Treatment usually begins with over-the-counter medications, and then prescription-strength medications if you need additional help. Surgery is the next step if medications fail. “Surgeons can tighten your lower esophageal sphincter to prevent reflux,” says Freeman. “This is called a Nissen fundoplication and can usually be performed as a minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery.”

For more information, call 573-331-3996.