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.
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.
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.
Barrett’s oesophagus can develop into oesophageal cancer. Risk factors that increase the chances of this occurring include:
- being male
- having the symptoms of GORD for longer than 10 years
- having three or more episodes of heartburn and related symptoms a week
- being overweight or obese
- drinking too much alcohol over a long period of time
- having an unhealthy diet that is low in fruit and vegetables.
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.
Last reviewed: November 2016