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How do GERD and heartburn affect the body?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

In people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and heartburn, the valve-like muscle between the esophagus and the stomach, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), is not working correctly. The malfunctioning LES allows stomach acid and other stomach contents to leak back into the esophagus. The presence of stomach acid or other regurgitated stomach contents in the esophagus can irritate it. Occasional heartburn is usually not serious and causes less damage than GERD, which is often chronic. In people with GERD, the ongoing irritation in the esophagus can lead to inflammation, bleeding, ulcers, a buildup of scar tissue, and other complications. In some people with GERD, the chronic irritation causes the cells in the lining of the esophagus to change, increasing the risk of esophageal cancer.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.