Stacey Colino

Q: Can acid reflux damage my esophagus?

A: Yes, it can. Stomach acid is strong stuff. While your stomach lining is designed to handle it, your esophagus is not.

In fact, the reason acid reflux hurts so much is because your esophagus is literally being burned by stomach acid. If acid reflux does enough damage to your esophagus, it can become irritated and inflamed (esophagitis), develop ulcers or bleeding, or start to narrow (strictures).

What’s more, in up to 15 percent of people with long-term gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), the damage caused by repeated exposure to stomach acid can be so severe that the cells in your esophagus develop precancerous changes, notes Dr. Charlene Prather, a gastroenterologist and professor at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

These abnormal cellular changes, called Barrett’s esophagus, increase your risk of developing esophageal cancer, especially if you have a family history of gastrointestinal cancers, smoke, are obese or drink alcohol heavily.

So if you have frequent heartburn due to acid reflux, don’t brush it off as an inconvenience. The damage to your esophagus can be serious.

This Live Right Live Well Ask the Expert was written by journalist Stacey Colino.


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