Acid reflux, or more commonly known as heartburn, is one of the leading causes of gastrointestinal problems among adults. If left unchecked, acid reflux is a problem that can lead to significant damage in the stomach, esophagus and duodenal tract. Contrary to popular belief, heartburn is not a condition in itself, but a manifestation brought about by acid reflux and is considered its most common symptom. Heartburn in itself can cause severe damage to the stomach and its proximal areas which is why in the treatment of acid reflux, heartburn management is also taken into account.

Long term effects of acid reflux can be different in every patient and depends on the severity and prognosis of acid reflux. Although there are patients who have been successful in managing acid reflux without any long term adverse complications, most who go for years without treatment or proper diagnosis develop grave and sometimes life-threatening problems.

The stomach is a versatile organ that is capable of withstanding a high concentration of acidic compounds in order to precipitate digestion and breakdown of foodstuff that we consume. The stomach is generally protected with a lining that makes it able to tolerate the high acidity in the gastric juices produced in its chamber. If the lining in the stomach is damaged, the gastric acids cause alarming damage to the cellular structure of the stomach wall.

Acid reflux is a condition that occurs when the acid buildup in the stomach reaches significant levels and elevates to the proximal posterior of the esophagus which leads to the softening of the esophageal sphincters causing the acid to seep out. Under normal conditions the LES or posterior esophageal sphincter is responsible for constriction to prevent the gastric acids in the stomach from flowing out and entering the esophagus. The LES is the meeting point of the posterior esophagus and anterior stomach portion and weakens as prolonged exposure to gastric acids occurs. Scientifically the LES should not be exposed to gastric acid continuously.

Patients who suffer from a chronic case of acid reflux, or more commonly known as GERD, are observed to have a highly damaged lower esophageal sphincter primarily attributed to constant exposure to corrosive acids from the stomach. This makes acid reflux a degenerative disease that becomes more painful as it progresses. As the LES (lower esophageal sphincter) gets weaker, the failure to create a blockade between the esophagus and gastric juices become more prominent, this leads to more episodes of heartburn.

A Constant seeping of gastric acids into the esophagus can lead to the abrasion of the esophageal lining and lead is commonly referred to as Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. GERD in itself can lead to more serious prognoses such as the development of cancer in the structural proximities of the esophagus, strictures and a condition called Barrett's Esophagus.

Barrett's Esophagus is a medical condition that happens when the esophageal lining which is primarily responsible for transporting saliva and masticated food into the stomach changes in cellular structure to mimic that of the same tissue normally found in the intestinal wall. The condition is considered serious as it becomes an indication of possible cancer formation. In fact, people who develop Barrett's Esophagus are 125% more prone to developing cancer cells in the esophageal region.

The development of cancer in the esophagus is the result of the mutation of malignant cells in the tissues that line the anatomical structure. Esophageal cancer is strongly associated with long term acid reflux as well as progressive damage cause by GERD. Further complications of continuous acid reflux do not restrict cancer formation to the esophagus alone. Laryngeal cancer studies have also shown a strong correlation between the formation of malignant cells in the larynx and a chronic acid reflux condition.

Erosive Esophagitis is the medical term for the acute swelling and inflammation of the esophageal structure, most often attributed to the reflux caused by gastric acid overflow in the stomach. Erosive Esophagitis is painful and can become complicated if abscess formation and sepsis occurs. Esophagitis is a dangerous condition which can be a predecessor to bleeding and the formation of painful ulcers in the area. If the esophagus continues to suffer degradation and erosion, a potential narrowing of the esophageal passage could happen, a condition diagnosed as Esophageal Strictures. This normally creates a lot of difficulty in swallowing for patients. Once the esophagus endures repeated exposure to harmful gastric acids, it begins to scar. The narrowing of the esophageal tube is attributed to this. Esophageal Strictures are only corrected through surgery, and is done by stretching the esophageal tube to a manageable width. The scars present in the esophagus can also lead to an awkward sensation when swallowing, often making patients feel like there is an object lodged in the throat and increasing the amount of swallowing a person does.

When someone has developed GERD, a low acid diet should be followed to prevent further aggravation of the disease. Coffee lovers who have GERD problems may find Hevla's low acid coffee redeeming.