Even the occasional episode of acid reflux can be quite unpleasant. However, if you suffer from frequent bouts of heartburn, it’s likely that you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Not only can GERD be very uncomfortable, but left untreated, may increase your risks for certain cancers as well.
Research Shows GERD Increases Risk of Some Head and Neck Cancers
Frequent exposure to stomach acid can irritate and damage the esophageal lining. Acid can also reach the larynx and cause damage there as well. Multiple studies have shown that GERD is a risk factor for developing cancers of the esophagus and larynx, including:
- A study published in 2021 found that roughly 17% of esophageal adenocarcinoma and esophageal squamous cell carcinoma were associated with GERD.
- Another study looked at data from the National Health Insurance Research Database between 1998-2010 to compare rates of cancer among GERD patients to those of the general population. They found that GERD patients exhibited significantly higher incidents of oropharyngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers.
How To Know if You Have GERD
Having acid reflux from time to time isn’t something to be too concerned about. However, if you are having symptoms several times a week, make an appointment with your doctor. Common symptoms of GERD include:
- A burning sensation in the chest that may worsen when lying down
- Sore throat
- Chronic cough
- A frequent sour taste in your mouth
- Postnasal drip
- Trouble swallowing
- Pain in your chest or upper abdomen
- New or worsening asthma
Ways To Treat GERD
If you have GERD, there’s no need to panic or assume that you are at a high risk of cancer. However, it is important to seek timely treatment to help prevent any damage, lower your risk and, most importantly, improve your quality of life.
Treatment options may include a mix of medications and lifestyle changes such as:
- Diet modifications. Your doctor may recommend eliminating common reflux triggers from your diet, such as fried foods, foods high in fat, chocolate, alcohol, peppermint or caffeine, among others. Instead, stock up on leafy greens, high-fiber foods and non-citrusy fruit the next time you visit Oakmont Farmers Market in Havertown.
- Change the way you eat. It’s not just what you eat but how much and how quickly. Aim for smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. Additionally, try to eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly before taking another bite.
- Adjust your sleep position. Try sleeping on your left side or consider raising the head of your bed or using a wedge pillow to keep your body elevated from the waist up.
- Medication options. Both over-the-counter and prescription medications can help with reflux. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and any potential risks of different medications and take them only as recommended.
In rare cases where medication and/or lifestyle remedies don’t control your symptoms, surgery may be recommended.
For more information or to get help with your GERD symptoms, call the experts at Pinnacle ENT today to schedule an appointment.