For most people, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) is a fairly straightforward condition. But for some, GORD can eventually lead to complications such as oesophageal ulcers, oesophageal stricture, Barrett’s oesophagus and oesophageal cancer.
Excess acid rising up into the oesophagus can damage its lining causing inflammation (oesophagitis) and potentially oesophageal ulcers. These ulcers can bleed, cause pain and make swallowing difficult. Medicines used to treat GORD can also help with oesophageal ulcers.
If the lining of the oesophagus is continuously damaged by excess acid refluxing into it, scar tissue can form. If the scar tissue builds up, it can cause the oesophagus to become narrowed. This is called an oesophageal stricture. It can make swallowing difficult and sometimes painful. It is possible to have a surgical procedure to widen the oesophagus.
Repeated episodes of GORD can damage the cells lining the lower oesophagus. This condition is called Barrett’s oesophagus. It usually occurs with severe and long-standing GORD, and the symptoms tend to be the same as for GORD.
In some people Barrett’s oesophagus can develop into oesophageal cancer. The symptoms of oesophageal cancer are:
- difficulty swallowing
- unexplained weight loss
- persistent indigestion
- a persistent cough and/or coughing blood
If your doctor thinks you may be at risk of developing oesophageal cancer, you may be referred for a special test (endoscopy) regularly to monitor the affected cells.
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Last reviewed: September 2018