(NAPSI)-Erosion is bad enough at the beach; it shouldn't happen in your body. If you regularly experience heartburn, you may be at risk for erosion of your esophagus, an essential part of your digestive tract.
When stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, you experience this as heartburn. Heartburn experienced on two or more days a week is a symptom of a chronic condition called acid reflux disease, or gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) that affects more than 21 million Americans. Other symptoms of acid reflux disease may include a sour or bitter taste in the mouth and difficulty swallowing.
Who's at risk?
Left untreated, the hydrochloric acid escaping from your stomach can erode the lining of the esophagus, leading to a potentially serious complication of acid reflux disease called erosive esophagitis. Erosive esophagitis involves injury to the esophagus caused by stomach acid. Additionally, scars from tissue damage can narrow the esophagus, making swallowing difficult.
"Many people underestimate the seriousness of heartburn that occurs at least two days a week," says Dr. Isaac Raijman, Digestive Association of Houston. "Acid reflux disease is a chronic condition that can have significant consequences if symptoms are not properly managed, just like diabetes or high blood pressure."
About one-third of people with frequent, persistent heartburn also have erosive esophagitis, but it can also occur when heartburn symptoms are minor or nonexistent. That is why if you have any degree of heartburn on two or more days a week, you should see your doctor.
Acid Reflux Disease and Erosive Esophagitis: High Awareness, Low Action
While awareness of acid reflux disease and the potential for damage to the esophagus is growing, a recent survey of people with heartburn shows how cavalier heartburn sufferers can be about taking care of it. According to a survey sponsored by AstraZeneca, the makers of NEXIUM® (esomeprazole magnesium), approximately 77 percent of frequent heartburn sufferers think damage to the esophagus is serious, yet only 29 percent of people who experience heartburn at least a few times a month have talked to their doctor about the possibility of erosion; and, 49 percent of frequent heartburn sufferers are not concerned about long-term effects of their condition. Additionally, when heartburn is not relieved, 54 percent of respondents use more than the prescribed dose of their prescription medicine or add another kind of medicine.
Persistent Symptoms Need Persistent Treatment
Frequent heartburn caused by acid reflux disease needs persistent treatment. Like other chronic conditions, symptoms are only controlled as long as prescribed medication is taken. In the previously cited survey, 46 percent of people taking prescription heartburn medication reported that they stopped taking the medicine because their symptoms were relieved.
"Don't stop taking medicine for symptoms related to acid reflux disease unless your doctor tells you to," advises Raijman. "Since the stomach is always producing more acid, stopping proper treatment for acid reflux disease may cause heartburn pain and damage to the esophagus to return."
Although erosive esophagitis is a serious medical concern, the good news is that the damage to the esophagus can be healed in four to eight weeks with a prescription proton pump inhibitor (PPI), such as Nexium. These medications deactivate some of the acid-producing cells in the lining of your stomach to keep acid production under control. By reducing acid production in the stomach, Nexium reduces the amount of acid backing up into the esophagus and causing reflux symptoms.
Nexium is recommended for treating frequent, persistent heartburn and other symptoms associated with acid reflux disease. The drug is also approved for healing erosive esophagitis. Studies show that up to 94 percent of patients were healed with Nexium. Individual results may vary, and only a doctor can determine if erosions to the esophagus have occurred. The most common side effects of Nexium are headache, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Symptom relief does not rule out the existence of other serious stomach conditions.
For more information, visit www.acidreflux.com or call 1-877-REFLUX-2.