Our volunteers recently came across an article on PostBulletin.com entitled “[Gastroesophageal] reflux can trigger symptoms similar to cardiac problems.” It is a Mayo Clinic Q & A piece that the Minnesota newspaper published online.
The article question was submitted by a daughter whose father had gone to the emergency room due to chest pain which the doctors said was most likely not a heart attack but could possibly be heartburn. Jeffrey Alexander, M.D from Mayo Clinic, responded to the daughter’s question about her father’s health. While we are pleased with most of the article, two quotes from Dr. Alexander stuck out as major red flags for anyone who suffers from Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD-which is also known as acid reflux disease).
The first quote from Dr. Alexander we would like to address is:
“Typically, GERD does not require treatment from a health care provider.”
In the United States, approximately 20 percent of the population has GERD, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).1
One in five Americans who suffers from GERD. If not properly treated, overtime GERD damages the lining of the esophagus and can cause serious medical conditions, i.e. chronic cough or hoarseness, bleeding or scarring of the esophagus, ulcers, Barrett’s esophagus or esophageal cancer.
Many chronic GERD sufferers turn to antacids or other over-the-counter medications for relief. Others seek help from their doctors and are prescribed medications known as Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs), which reduce the amount of acid in the stomach; thus treating the symptoms of GERD but not the disease. Recent research has shown that PPIs may not protect against Barrett’s esophagus and/or esophageal cancer.2
Therefore, those who suffer from GERD should not self-medicate alone, but should speak with their doctor and a doctor who specializes in GERD to reduce the risk of damage to the esophagus.
This leads us to the second quote by Dr. Alexander from the article that we would like to address:
“GERD can be managed, and nobody dies from it.”
GERD is a primary risk factor for esophageal cancer (adenocarcinoma), one of the fastest growing and deadliest cancers in the United States and the western world. Incidences of esophageal cancer and GERD have increased significantly in past decades. In fact, incidence of esophageal cancer has risen over 600%. Unfortunately, esophageal cancer has an overall five-year survival rate of only 18.4%.3
While GERD in and of itself won’t cause anyone to die, the damage that GERD can cause to the esophagus very well could eventually lead people to die.
President of The Salgi Foundation, Linda Molfesi, knows all too well the dangers of heartburn and GERD.
“My father suffered from chronic heartburn for years and was never warned by doctors of the possible risks. We found out too late, once he started having difficulty swallowing, that his chronic reflux had led to esophageal cancer.” Molfesi continued, “My father passed away a little over a year from the date he was diagnosed and it was, and still is, devastating,” Molfesi said.
In addition to esophageal cancer’s dramatic increase over the past decades and its very poor survival rates, there are currently no routine or standard screenings to detect esophageal cancer in its earliest stages.
The Salgi Esophageal Cancer Research Foundation urges the public to be proactive about their health. Never ignore frequent heartburn or other symptoms and never rely on medications alone. If you suffer from heartburn, chest pain or any other symptom, talk to your doctor about all your options, especially how you can get screened for any possible damage.
Dr. Alexander does mention that lifestyle changes can help manage GERD symptoms and he also notes common “warning” symptoms which could point to more serious problems, including esophageal cancer.
However, GERD is a progressive disease which will only get worse if not properly treated. Once again, we must stress that it is very important to speak to your doctor if you are experiencing GERD to manage symptoms, get screened and reduce your risk of Barrett’s esophagus and/or esophageal cancer.
- GERD by the Numbers: Facts, Statistics & You. Ann Pietrangelo. Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on March 2, 2015. Healthline Media. healthline.com
- Does any acid reflux medication prevent esophageal cancer? Bruce Kaechele. RefluxMD refluxmd.com
- Cancer Stat Facts: Esophageal Cancer. National Cancer Institute, Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program, seer.cancer.gov
- Gastroesophagel reflux can trigger symptoms similar to cardiac problems. Jeffrey Alexander, M.D., Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester. Mayo Clinic Q & A postbulletin.com