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Is it heartburn or Barrett’s esophagus syndrome?

If you find yourself frequently reaching for a bottle of antacid pills, you may begin to wonder if that regular fiery feeling of heartburn in your chest could be causing damage.

You could be right. Left untreated, regular acid reflux can cause damage to the esophagus, which can result in Barrett’s esophagus syndrome. From there, the precancerous condition can turn into esophageal cancer.

Barrett’s most often is diagnosed in males over the age of 50 years old, those who are obese or who have a smoking history. Family history can also increase your risk for the condition.

One common misconception is that heartburn is a telltale sign of Barrett’s. Dr. Rogelio Silva, a gastroenterologist at Advocate Health Care, sets the record straight, “If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and it develops into Barrett’s, your heartburn symptoms tend to actually get better. This is because of the cellular change to the esophageal lining that makes normal lining thicker, which is a better barrier for acid exposure, but it also increases your risk for cancer.”

Steps you can take to minimize damage to your esophageal lining:
  1. Avoid spicy, fatty, acidic, carbonated, or caffeinated food and beverages
  2. Eat smaller, more frequent meals
  3. Avoid eating too close to bedtime
  4. Stay in an upright position a couple hours after eating
  5. Quit smoking
  6. Maintain a healthy weight
  7. Consult with your doctor about taking over-the-counter antacids

If you are diagnosed with Barrett’s, there are precautions you can take to prevent the development of cancer. “You will need to be on lifelong acid suppressive therapy with a proton pump inhibitor, such as omeprazole or pantoprazole,” explains Dr. Silva. “Also, periodic endoscopic surveillance can rule out early cancer changes or progression of Barrett’s that would increase the risk for cancer.”

An endoscopy is a routine, preventive procedure where a tube with a camera is put down your throat to evaluate the esophagus and stomach while you are under local anesthesia.

If you are concerned about frequent heartburn or your risk for Barrett’s, contact your doctor.

Do you have symptoms of acid reflux? Take a free online quiz.

This article originally appeared on health enews.

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