Heartburn tends to flare up while we are engaged in an activity. And because these activities occur everyday—while we're eating a heavy meal, lying down after the meal, or jogging along the sidewalk—we tend to think of heartburn as an isolated event, something that happens once, or, if it does happen again, happens in a similar, rectifiable situation.

But casually thinking of heartburn as a fleeting problem remedied by a lifestyle change or an over-the-counter medication is a mistake. Its long-term health risks are very serious, and they're risks of which most heartburn patients are unaware.

In 2006 a study set out to examine the seriousness of this problem of the ignorance of long-term health risks among heartburn patients. Researchers surveyed over 1,900 GERD sufferers in France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, asking questions concerning disease, lifestyle, and choice of drug to treat GERD.

The conclusions were astonishing. 2/3 of patients with GERD symptoms did not believe that any long-term health risks associated with heartburn existed. This is a troubling piece of information, given how many people suffer from, say, Barrett's esophagus, which is a condition when the tissue lining the esophagus is replaced by tissue that is similar to the lining of the intestine. Though only about one percent of adults in the United States have Barrett's esophagus, a small number of people with it develop a rare but often deadly type of cancer of the esophagus. name="_ftnref2">

While the exact causes of Barrett's esophagus are unknown, it is typically found in people who have GERD, as they are three to five times more likely to develop the condition. And as heartburn is the main symptom of GERD, that the majority of people who have heartburn are unaware that they are at risk for a deadly cancer is not good.

More so, there are other health risks to which heartburn sufferers are subject. They include:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic cough
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Laryngeal Cancer
  • Erosive Esophagitis (swelling and inflammation of the esophagus)
  • Esophageal Strictures (narrowing of the esophagus)

Ignoring your heartburn and treating it as if it is simply a momentary inconvenience is not a smart decision. As suggested by the authors of the study of unaware patients to heartburn's long-term health risks, do not ignore symptoms. The earlier they are tracked, the easier they can be avoided through effective and corrective treatment. And the easier it will be to become educated on the matter


name="_ftn1"> Liker, Harley R. "Unmet Medical Needs among Patients with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: A Foundation for Improving Management in Primary Care." Digestive Diseases: Clinical Reviews.