If GERD progressively gets worse, it can cause serious damage to the esophagus such as:
- inflammation of the esophagus, esophagitis, or ulcerations
- damage to the lining of the esophagus, called esophageal strictures
- a condition in which the esophagus forms a new lining, known as Barrett's esophagus
GERD can cause several other problems, such as:
- sleeping problems
- breathing problems
- cough or sore throat
- dental problems
If GERD remains untreated or gets progressively worse, any of the following problems or complications can occur.
- Esophagitis means inflammation of the esophagus. Over time, GERD may cause redness and swelling of the tissues of the esophagus because of the constant reflux of acid and other stomach contents. About 40% of people who have GERD have esophagitis. Very severe esophagitis may eventually destroy layers of tissue and result in deep sores, known as ulcers, and sometimes bleeding.
- Esophageal strictures, or severe damage to the tissues of the esophagus, may result in the formation of scar tissue around the bottom of the esophagus. This narrows the passageway to the stomach, making it feel as if food or liquid is stuck in your esophagus - a condition called dysphagia. With esophageal strictures, you may feel pain in your chest as food or drink passes through your esophagus, a condition known as odynophagia. If you have either of these symptoms, see your doctor.
- Barrett's esophagus refers to severe damage of the tissues that line the esophagus. It may lead to cell changes and prompt the formation of a new esophageal lining. This new lining is more resistant to acid reflux, so it may seem that your symptoms have disappeared. However, these cell changes increase the risk for developing esophageal cancer.
- Sleeping problems have been reported in 2/3 of people who have constant heartburn according to a recent survey. When you are lying down, it is more difficult to clear acid that may reflux.
- Breathing problems or respiratory problems, such as asthma, cough, sore throat, or laryngitis, which is the inflammation of the vocal cords or larynx, are sometimes found in people who have GERD. Occasionally, your stomach contents may reflux up and be sucked into the lungs, causing coughing, choking, and even pneumonia.
- Dental problems may occur in people who have had GERD for many years but haven't treated it. The constant reflux of acid and regurgitation of stomach contents can slowly wear down the enamel that protects the teeth, increasing your risk for dental problems.