Do GERD and heartburn affect women differently than men?

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Complications of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) such as Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer are more common in men than women. Complications of acid reflux can include dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), regurgitation and an increased risk of cancer. This is due to progressive damage to the esophagus, resulting in inflammation, ulceration and possible scarring with narrowing. In addition, these symptoms may be indicative of esophageal cancer. All of these symptoms merit seeing a doctor for further care. At that time, the individual should undergo an upper endoscopy to evaluate the source of the problem.
Barrett's esophagus is a condition where the lining of the esophagus changes because of chronic inflammation, generally due to GERD. In the setting of chronic acid exposure, the cellular structure of the lower esophageal lining changes to look more like the cells lining the intestine. Barrett's esophagus itself has no specific symptoms, but this change can increase the risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma (a type of esophageal cancer). Barrett's esophagus can be readily detected during an upper endoscopy but must be confirmed by biopsies. The intent is to diagnose this condition, treat it medically and follow it over time before cancer has a chance to develop. If biopsies detect dysplasia (a precancerous change in tissue), then your doctor will recommend either close endoscopic surveillance (doing endoscopies at regular intervals with biopsies), endoscopic therapy or surgery. Endoscopic therapy may include removal of Barrett’s with dysplasia using endoscopic mucosal resection, which can remove abnormal tissue in the esophagus without damaging the rest of the esophagus.
Endoscopic ablation of Barrett’s tissue can be done with either radiofrequency ablation, which destroys and kills cells by heating them, or cryotherapy, which destroys cells by freezing them. After treatment, the esophagus grows back a normal healthy lining. Your physician will determine which treatment option is best for you.

Although gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and heartburn usually affect women and men the same way, pregnant women are at increased risk for both. Hormonal changes during pregnancy and the pressure of the enlarged uterus on the stomach can cause or intensify heartburn and other GERD symptoms, making them more common among pregnant women. If you are pregnant, your hormones are likely to relax your digestive tract muscles, including the lower esophageal sphincter, which controls the flow of food from the esophagus to the stomach. When this muscle relaxes, it might malfunction and allow stomach acid and other stomach contents to leak back into the esophagus, causing heartburn and maybe GERD as well. Pregnancy can influence how you treat heartburn and GERD, since some medications might not be recommended, so you should talk to your doctor about your symptoms before you take any medications.

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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.