Reflux and heartburn1
Reflux (also called acid reflux or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease [GORD]) refers to a common condition where acid from the stomach comes back up into the oesophagus (food pipe).
Heartburn, which is an uncomfortable burning sensation in the chest that can rise to the throat, is a symptom of reflux. People often use them interchangeably. Other symptoms can include an unpleasant taste in your mouth, bad breath or difficulty swallowing. There can be different causes of reflux. These can include eating certain foods, being overweight, stress, hormonal changes and some medications.
Lots of people suffer from reflux and heartburn from time to time, but if reflux persists (lasts a long time or keeps coming back) then it could lead to changes in cells lining the oesophagus. This is because stomach acid can damage the cells and cause a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus.
If you have reflux, a Heartburn Health Check may be used to look at the health of your oesophagus. The results can reveal cell changes or help your doctor see whether they need to initiate treatment or change your medication.
1. Heartburn and acid reflux. NHS
Barrett’s oesophagus is a condition that can develop as the result of reflux. It is a condition where stomach acid damages the lining of the oesophagus and causes cells to change. Although these cells are not cancerous, there is a risk they can develop into oesophageal cancer. Because of this, Barrett’s oesophagus is sometimes called a pre-cancerous condition.
If you have already been diagnosed with Barrett’s oesophagus, you may be asked to have a Heartburn Health Check to monitor it. This helps your doctor to see whether there is any risk of the condition progressing to oesophageal cancer. Please remember that the risk is low, and monitoring your oesophageal health can help you get the treatment you need as early as possible.
In a very small number of cases, Barrett’s oesophagus can develop into oesophageal cancer. Oesophageal cancer is when cells in the oesophagus divide and grow in an uncontrolled way. These can eventually spread into other tissues and parts of the body.
Oesophageal cancer is one of the most lethal cancers in adults. If it is caught early, the survival rates are significantly better than if it is diagnosed at an advanced stage.
The symptoms of oesophageal cancer can be similar to those of heartburn and reflux, which is why it is important that we test to find cancer early.
Frequently asked questions
Find out more about the Heartburn Health Check and EndoSign® by visiting the FAQs.