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      When It’s Not Just Heartburn

      Most of us experience heartburn from time to time. Eating extra-large or spicy meals, drinking too much, and carrying extra weight – are all causes of heartburn, and most of us, especially men, tend to brush it off as an annoyance from overindulging. Sometimes chronic heartburn symptoms can be a sign that there is something more concerning going on.

      So, men – in honor of Men’s Health Month in June, and all the other months of the year – pledge to not ignore heartburn. Frequent heartburn symptoms could indicate:

      GERD – Gastroesophageal reflux disease is the most common cause of heartburn and can lead to other diseases such as esophageal cancer (we’ll learn more about that in a minute). GERD occurs when stomach acid frequently flows back into the tube connecting your mouth and stomach which can irritate the lining of your esophagus. In addition to experiencing frequent heartburn, other signs you may have GERD include difficulty swallowing, coughing, chest pain, and regurgitation of food or sour liquid.

      Barrett’s esophagus – This potentially serious condition results when prolonged acid reflux changes the tissue lining of your esophagus, the tube in your throat that carries food to your stomach, making it more like the lining of the small intestine. Researchers suggest tissue change happens as the acidic liquid irritates the esophageal lining. Pay attention if your heartburn gets worse at night, you find it hard to swallow, you feel like you have food stuck in your throat or have a constant sore throat or sour taste in your mouth. While these symptoms are not specific to Barrett’s esophagus, they can be an indication of the disease. An upper endoscopy and biopsy are often recommended to determine what is causing the issues. Patients with long-term GERD could potentially develop Barrett’s esophagus, but GERD does not cause Barrett’s Esophagus. The greatest concern for Barrett’s is that in a small percentage of patients it can lead to esophageal cancer.

      Esophageal cancer – When abnormal cells grow out of control in the esophageal tissue, the cells can form a cancerous tumor. Men are three times more likely to develop esophageal cancer and it typically occurs in people 60 years and older. Tobacco use, heavy use of alcohol, and long-term heartburn all increase the risk. Because symptoms of Esophageal cancer do not appear early on, be mindful of the most common symptoms such as difficulty swallowing, unexpected weight loss, increasing levels of heartburn, chronic coughing, and hoarseness. These symptoms don’t necessarily mean a cancer diagnosis, but it will be important to discuss these symptoms with your gastroenterologist.

      If you have questions or concerns about heartburn or are experiencing regular symptoms, call us at 815-397-7340 to make an appointment.