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Acid reflux? Heartburn? GERD symptoms could be a sign of this disease.

If you’ve been fighting acid reflux for years, you could be at risk for something called Barrett’s esophagus.

If you've been fighting acid reflux for years, you could be at risk for something called Barrett's esophagus. This is a condition in which tissue that is similar to the lining of your intestine replaces the tissue lining of your esophagus, says the NIH.

Barrett's esophagus is most often seen in people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)—about five to 10 percent of people GERD sufferers will develop Barrett's esophagus. While Barrett's esophagus usually doesn't have any symptoms, GERD does.

If you haven't been formally diagnosed with GERD but suffer from burning sensations in the chest and throat (heartburn), regurgitation, frequent sore throats, chronic cough or wheezing, bad breath, and chest pain, talk to your doctor. GERD can usually be diagnosed through a physical exam, but your physician may want to order further tests to rule out complications and other diseases, like Barrett's esophagus.

Your doctor may want to order an endoscopy, a procedure that uses a thin tube with a small camera and light to see the inside of the esophagus and take tissue samples or biopsies if needed. An endoscopy is the only way to diagnose Barrett's esophagus. A healthy esophagus looks pink and shiny, while a Barrett's esophagus looks red and velvety.

If your physician does take a tissue sample, they'll examine it for something called dysplasia, or the development of abnormal, precancerous cells. This is important to note because Barrett's esophagus sufferers are at a higher risk of developing a rare type of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.

There are some treatments available that can destroy the Barrett's tissue, and may decrease the development of cancer in some patients, says the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE). This could include heat-based treatment (like an ablation), cold energy (like cryotherapy), or the use of light and special chemicals (photodynamic therapy). The treatment that your doctor decides will depend on the level of dysplasia you have.

More often than not, a large part of treatment will be managing acid reflux symptoms through medication, proton pump inhibitors, and dietary changes.

If you do suffer from GERD, don't panic! Only about one percent of patients with Barrett's esophagus actually develop cancer. But it's crucial that you find a gastroenterologist that you trust for treatment and frequent check-ups.

If you suffer from acid reflux and think you may have GERD or Barrett's esophagus, make an appointment with the experts at Gastroenterology & Associates of Pensacola. Call 850-474-8988 or visit them online at www.endo-world.com to make an appointment.