Untreated heartburn can increase cancer risk

Untreated heartburn can increase cancer risk

We all have it on occasion, especially in south Louisiana where spicy foods run rampant! Heartburn oftentimes can be treated with at home medications and cutting out certain foods. 7News finds out why you should take notice of chronic heartburn and how it is linked to esophageal cancer.

Relief is hard to come by for those that feel the burn of heartburn.  "It's really bad," said Tessa Fontenot, "like I have to get up and chew a Tums.  It's severe."

The burning in Fontenot's chest has been so severe before that it has kept her from sleeping.  "Sometimes after I, I feel like there's a burning in my chest and then when I lay down at night, like within a couple of hours, I feel like there's a burning," she said.

An antacid could temporarily fix the problem, but after weeks of feeling the pain, Fontenot came to gastroenterologist Dr. Francis Bride at CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital.  "Heartburn is the sensation of pain or discomfort that occurs when acid or gastric contents leaves the stomach and goes into the esophagus where it doesn't belong," he said.

If over-the-counter medications are treating your heartburn conditions at home and it is just happening a couple of times a week, seeking medical help is not necessary. But, if those conditions persist multiple days a week and impact your lifestyle and sleep, it is time to see a doctor.  "Our concern at that time is whether this is uncomplicated acid reflux or is it more complicated acid reflux that needs to be treated more aggressively," said Dr. Bride.

If Tums and Maalox are not working, there are several prescriptions to take away the burn.  "You'll step up to the H2 blockers, which are the Zantac type medications, finally up to the PPIs, which are inhibitors," said Dr. Bride.

The PPIs include Prilosec and Prevacid, and keep the acid from being released.

Chronic heartburn can turn into Barrett's Esophagus when left untreated, increasing your risk for esophageal cancer.  "That is a condition where the lining of the stomach starts creeping up and replacing the lining of the esophagus," said Dr. Bride.

Barrett's Esophagus can be treated with an ablation catheter and St. Pat's boasts the BARRYX system, the only one of its kind in the region.

But for Fontenot, some basic meal planning got her feeling good again.  "Just make sure the food is not fried or anything heavy," she said, "and not eat too late at night and when I eat, make sure I wait a couple of hours until I go to sleep."

If you are obese, over age 50 or eat within two hours of going to bed, you are more likely to have heartburn. Some of the trigger foods are tomatoes and chocolate and caffeinated drinks.

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