Nearly everyone has an attack of heartburn at some point in their lives. In the vast majority of cases the condition is temporary and mild, causing only short-term discomfort. If patients develop persistent gastroesophageal reflux disease with frequent relapses, and it remains untreated, serious complications may develop over time. Complications can include:
- Erosive esophagitis
- Severe narrowing (stricture) of the esophagus
- Barrett's esophagus
- Problems in other areas, including the teeth, throat, and airways leading to the lungs
Older people are at higher risk for complications from persistent GERD. The following conditions also put individuals at risk for recurrent and serious GERD:
- Very inflamed esophagus
- Severe symptoms
- Symptoms that continue in spite of treatments to heal the esophagus
- Severe muscle abnormalities
Despite the complications that can occur with the condition, GERD does not appear to shorten life expectancy.
Erosive Esophagitis and its Complications
Erosive esophagitis develops in chronic GERD patients when acid irritation and inflammation cause extensive injuries to the esophagus. The longer and more severe the GERD, the higher the risk for developing erosive esophagitis.
Review Date: 07/11/2010
Reviewed By: Reviewed by: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.