Acid Reflux, commonly known as heartburn, can also take a patient’s life if not treated in time. Over the years, I have seen a rise in patients who come to me complaining of Acid Reflux and when examined further are diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. It has now become apparent, through studies and research in the US and India, that people who suffer from acid reflux are likely to be predisposed to carcinoma of the oesophagus. My advice to all such patients is to undergo endoscopy on a regular basis to detect the problem in time.

Common ailment

According to a study done by the Department of Gastroenterology, Coimbatore Medical College and Hospital published in 2004, cancer of the oesophagus is common in India. The risk for oesophageal cancer is 3.5 times higher with alcohol consumption, 2.5 times higher for tobacco users, and 2.8 times higher each for betel nut chewers and smokers. In another study conducted by AIIMS published in 1999, it was concluded that this devastating disease is associated with significant morbidity rate and mortality rate. The tumour has relative resistance to chemotherapy and radiotherapy so surgery remains the best form of treatment for both palliation and cure. Therefore, it is most important to detect the problem as early as possible.

If symptoms do not improve despite changes in diet, medication may be required such as antacid preparations which neutralise acid in stomach or certain medications which block acid secretion by the stomach.

It is also important to know when to seek medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms: Heartburn several times a week; Heartburn that returns soon after your antacid wears off; Heartburn that wakes you up at night; Symptoms that persist even though you’re taking heartburn medications; Difficulty in swallowing; Regurgitation of blood or black material; Black stools and weight loss.

Check-ups

Time is of the essence and it is advisable for regular acid reflux patients to undergo endoscopy to detect the problem in time. However, the good news is that due to advances in technology and surgical techniques, Acid Reflux can be treated laparoscopically in cases where the problem can’t be treated non-surgically. Once the cancer sets in, surgery remains the treatment of choice for majority of the patients. The laparoscopic technique ensures that there is no/minimal blood loss and the surgery can be done in three to four hours. The recovery period too is faster resulting in less absence from work.

Dr. Deep Goel is a Gastrointestinal Oncologist based in Gurgaon.

Preventive measures

Avoid lying down right after eating and within two to three hours of bedtime.

Elevate the head of the bed by four to six inches. This can be accomplished by placing wooden/cement blocks under the feet of the head end of the bed or by inserting a wedge between the bed and mattress.

Lose weight if overweight.

Stop smoking and minimize consumption of alcohol.

Avoid eating large meals, instead, eat smaller, more frequent meals.

Avoid certain food products like: Chocolate, Excessive tea/coffee, Fried and fatty foods, Mint products (i.e., peppermint, spearmint), Carbonated beverages, and citrus fruits or juices, Tomato sauce, ketchup, mustard and vinegar.