Severe acid reflux is a medical condition characterized by frequent episodes of severe heartburn and the emergence of complications like erosion in the esophagus caused by prolonged irritation. People with severe acid reflux need to receive treatment to prevent further complications from appearing. Treatment will also address the pain and discomfort and can resolve other issues like asthma complicated by heartburn and insomnia caused by recurrent upper chest pain.
In acid reflux disease, the sphincter at the bottom of the esophagus designed to keep stomach acid out of the esophagus weakens, allowing acid to enter the esophagus, especially when patients are lying down or after they have finished a big meal. While the tissue in this area of the body is very tough, it can become irritated if it is chronically exposed to stomach acid. The patient experiences an uncomfortable burning sensation and may feel pressure on the chest, and symptoms like coughing, difficulty swallowing, and belching can also develop.
In severe acid reflux, the flareups are very frequent, and the patient can have complications like esophagitis, an inflammation of the esophagus caused by chronic exposure to stomach acid. Patients can also have esophageal strictures, where the tissue in the esophagus is narrowed and tightened because of inflammation. Some patients also have a condition called Barrett's esophagus, a precursor to cancerous growth in the esophagus. These complications indicate that acid reflux has been occurring for an extended period of time, long enough to cause changes to the tissue in the esophagus.
Acid reflux does not always cause heartburn. In silent acid reflux, the patient's voicebox is eroded by damage from stomach acid and the patient may cough frequently, wheeze, and have difficulty speaking clearly. In all cases of severe acid reflux, doctors use diagnostic tools like scoping the throat and esophagus, taking biopsy samples, and checking for conditions with similar symptoms, like angina. If the doctor determines that the patient has severe acid reflux, treatment options can be discussed.
Medications can sometimes resolve the problem, as can lifestyle changes. Some people experience relief when they lose weight, dress in more loose-fitting clothing, and avoid certain foods. Other patients may need a surgery to repair the sphincter. Surgery is invasive, but it can be the best treatment option for a patient who is struggling with severe acid reflux when other treatment means do not work. Patients can discuss treatment options with their physicians to develop a treatment plan tailored to their needs.