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Heartburn can be dangerous

Frequent heartburn should not be taken lightly!  Untreated reflux, especially in those who smoke and drink alcohol, can in some cases lead to cancer of the esophagus (pictured to the left).  Acid reflux burns the esophagus, creating changes in the lining that frequently lead to scaring which can block the passage of food (stricture).  At other times, precancerous changes known as Barrett’s esophagus develop, and in a small number of cases this can lead to cancer.  Diagnosis of these conditions is usually made by swallowing a scope under sedation, known as upper endoscopy (EGD).  Worrisome esophageal symptoms include pain when swallowing and a sensation that food gets stuck when swallowing.  See your physician immediately if one or both of these symptoms develop, or if you have heartburn 2 or more days a week, a persistent sore throat, hoarseness that does not resolve, constant throat clearing, and/or frequent regurgitation.  Realize too that acid suppressing meds like Prilosec and Zantac may not prevent these conditions and can mask symptoms, delaying diagnosis…Richard R. Samuel, MD     Family Practice and Urgent Care

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