Are GERD and heartburn serious?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Occasional heartburn is very common and rarely serious, but frequent heartburn can be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is more serious. In addition to the discomfort associated with GERD, the inflammation it causes in the esophagus can lead to serious complications, such as bleeding, ulcers and scarring. If scar tissue builds up, the esophagus can become narrow and cause difficulty when you swallow. Ulcers and bleeding in the esophagus can also make it hard to swallow. In some people, the irritation of the lining of the esophagus can lead to changes in the cells there, putting the person at risk for esophageal cancer. This condition, known as Barrett's esophagus, is rare, but it is a risk you and your doctor should discuss if you have chronic GERD. Your doctor or a specialist can examine the esophagus through a narrow tube called an endoscope if there is a risk of Barrett's esophagus.

Doctors and scientists are conducting a wide variety of research related to gastroesophageal reflux disease and heartburn. They are trying to better understand why some people get GERD and heartburn and others do not. They are also looking at the connections between GERD and heartburn and other illnesses, such as asthma and laryngitis. Research is also being done to improve the treatment options for GERD and heartburn. For example, researchers are conducting a clinical trial to study the effect of a low-carbohydrate diet on GERD. They are also looking into the effectiveness of certain medications and various types of surgery.

Yes, this is an active area of research. For scientific news on digestive diseases such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), see the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy’s website at

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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.