What Is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a more serious form of the more common gastroesophageal reflux or acid reflux.
Reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (a muscular valve that connects the esophagus to the stomach) either opens spontaneously or does not close properly, allowing stomach contents to rise up into the esophagus. This sphincter acts like a valve connecting the stomach to the esophagus, and when that valve stops working properly, reflux develops.
The digestive juices of the stomach contain powerful acid that can, over time, damage the lining of the esophagus. While reflux may occur commonly, GERD is a more serious condition that occurs more than twice a week, and can cause health problems if untreated.
Complications of GERD
It is important to treat GERD promptly, because the failure to do so can cause a number of serious complications, including:
- Esophagitis: Inflammation of the esophagus can become chronic.
- Swallowing disorders: Scar and tissue damage can cause strictures, a narrowing of the esophagus that makes swallowing difficult.
- Barrett esophagus: In some cases, chronic GERD may cause Barrett esophagus, in which abnormal cells develop in the esophageal lining, increasing the risk of esophageal cancer.