Can heartburn kill you?? Really? Over the last 20 years our diets have changed. We are more used to spicy food, Indian and Mexican cooking in particular is very different from what we used to eat. Add to this our growing love of caffeine and rich dark coffee is it no wonder when occasionally we get heartburn. So the natural thing to do is to reach for the Rennies and wait till it goes away.
But what if this isn’t normal, what if what you feel might kill you? Amazingly this is becoming more and more common and especially for men. But why and what causes the risk?
Causes Of Heartburn:
Let us start by explaining what causes heartburn. It occurs when stomach acid leaks out into the esophagus which is the tube leading up to the mouth. This can be caused by a weakened valve, pregnancy, overindulgence and it can also just develop with age.
How Can Heartburn Kill You?
If the stomach acid leaks out into the esophagus frequently then the body’s defence mechanism tries to grow a protective lining on the esophagus and this is called Barrett’s Esophagus. Unfortunately the new tissue growth is often abnormal and can turn cancerous (about one in ten will develop cancer this way).The survival rate for this cancer is really low at around 13% over a five year period.
There are two forms of esophageal cancer
- Squamous cell carcinoma which is often linked to smoking and drink.
- Adenocarcinoma which is linked to heartburn.
Over the last thirty years the heartburn cancer has grown from approximately 1/3rd to half of all these cancers.
Detection And Treatment:
Detection is usually by endoscopy however there are trials where a small sponge or capsule is placed on the end of a fine string. It is swallowed and then pulled back bringing cells with it for examination.
The usual treatment for Barrett’s is medication to stop the heartburn as well as an endoscopic examination every two years. Pre cancerous tumours can burn off under a local anaesthetic.
If detected later then chemotherapy is usually combined with an operation to remove the diseased part of the gut. This is major surgery as the chest cavity has to be opened and the stomach reattached.
So it is well worth watching out for these symptoms of heartburn –
- Heartburn recurring on a regular basis.
- Eating is painful and weight loss follows.
- Swallowing becomes difficult.
- Blood may be vomited.
- Pain under your breastbone. This is where the stomach joins the gut.
People are often surprised and question – How can heartburn kill you? Having read about the dangers of heartburn and its threat to life, if you think that you have a problem similar to this then do not neglect and seek a medical advice urgently.
We would like to hear from you. Please share your experiences, thoughts and views on the subject in the comments below.
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