If you have suffered from recurrent heartburn over a long period it might be worthwhile mentioning it to your doctor and perhaps avoiding what has happened to me. My first memory of heartburn was when I was about 11 and had just finished eating one of my mother’s delicious scones. I told my mum that I had a pain in my chest and she thought I was being critical of her cooking! Anyway for years I put up with the discomfort of heartburn and relieved the symptoms with a combination of Rennies, Andrews Liver Salts, Zantac capsules and bicarbonate of soda. After maybe 40 years of suffering my doctor decided that I should have an investigation and arranged for me to have an endoscopic examination, that is when a camera is passed down the throat into the gullet. The outcome was that I was diagnosed with Barrett’s Oesophagus, which is a condition where the cells of the oesophagus (gullet) grow abnormally. The oesophagus is the muscular tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. Barrett’s oesophagus is not a cancer but can develop into cancer in a small number of people. Acid reflux and GORD (gastro-oesophageal reflux disease) are the two main causes of Barrett’s oesophagus. Acid reflux is when stomach acid splashes back into the oesophagus. GORD is when the acid irritates and inflames the oesophagus. Around 1 in 10 people with acid reflux (10%) will go on to develop Barrett’s oesophagus. I was prescribed with tablets to reduce the amount of acid in my stomach and this was a great help and drastically reduced the instances of reflux. However, the normal procedure after such a finding is that the patient should have regular check-ups with both an endoscopy and a biopsy. How often you have these check-ups will depend; your doctors may want to see you several times a year or may feel that every two years is sufficient. These regular checks will allow them to monitor any changes in the cells of your oesophagus and to alter your treatment as necessary. Further reading will be found at www.barrettscampaign.org.uk/.
Unfortunately for me, I was not followed up and after about 12 years when I was beginning to get more episodes of reflux again my doctor simply increased the tablets to reduce the acid. About this time my sister in law (now a retired Medical Laboratory Scientist) on looking through my notes from the hospital saw that I had been diagnosed with Barrett’s, asked me when this was, I told her and she then asked about regular checkups, I said that I hadn’t had any in years. She recommended that I should immediately see my doctor and ask for a follow up to my long diagnosed Barrett’s, this I did and it was discovered that I had a tumour in my gullet. Then followed a long period of consultations and chemotherapy before an 8-hour operation to remove the tumour. Then followed more chemotherapy and months of convalescence. The outcome of all that is that the surgeon hopes that he has been able to remove all the tumour and optimistic that the cancer has not spread to other organs. He thought that I was very lucky that they had been able to operate in time as a result of my sister in law’s intervention.
The moral of this is to seek advice if you have been suffering from acid reflux for some time.