Ask Dr. Eisner: "Could it be throat cancer?"

by Todd Eisner Patient Expert
  1. I was diagnosed with acid reflux about a year ago via an endoscopy. For the last four months, I have been having symptoms in my throat despite taking Tums and Zantac. I am a smoker - could it be throat cancer?

While the symptoms are most likely related to acid refluxing into the throat, if they have persisted despite treatment, you should discuss the issues with your physician. An examination with an ear, nose and throat physician would be warranted, as well as possibly changing the Zantac to a proton pump inhibitor.

  1. Can acid reflux disease cause flu-like symptoms, such as chronic sore throat, cough, major sinus pressure, and a slight burning sensation in my lungs? ACT scan shows no sinus infection.

Acid reflux disease can cause atypical symptoms such as sore throat, cough and wheezing that can mimic asthma. While a pulmonary consultation is usually warranted to rule out a primary respiratory problem, symptoms may resolve with treatment of acid reflux.

3. I have had acid reflux for years and I am generally able to control it with diet. I was recently diagnosed with a fatty liver. Could this diagnosis be related to acid reflux disease? Could poor liver function have caused this in the first place? What kind of impact do H2 Blockers and other acid reflux medications have on the liver?

There is no known relationship between acid reflux disease and fatty liver. In general, H2 blockers and other proton pump inhibitors are safe to use in patients with liver disease, even in those with cirrhosis. You should, however, make sure that anyone prescribing or recommending a medication be aware that you do have liver disease.

  1. What is the best way to deal with aggravated acid reflux symptoms when experiencing a stomach virus? The doctor prescribed Mylanta and Prilosec. How long does it take for the Prilosec to begin working?

Mylanta works quicker than Prilosec but can be associated with diarrhea, which is a problem for patients with stomach viruses. Prilosec and OTC H2 blockers begin reducing acid over 1 to 2 hours after ingestion. The Prilosec, however, will have a longer duration of action, and if taken regularly should prevent further attacks until after the virus has subsided.

I was diagnosed with and treated for Thyroid Cancer in December of 2005. One of the symptoms was that I was having trouble swallowing. The swallowing problems have continued, and I started having pain below the ribs and the sternum and trouble breathing. Should I ask the doctors to look at my stomach/esophagus?

You certainly should discuss this with your physician. There are many reasons why you might be having difficulty swallowing. It would depend on the type of treatment you had (radiation to the esophagus can damage the esophagus; surgery in the area of the thyroid can cause scar tissue that can impact the esophagus) and the extent of disease (tumors can impinge on the esophagus). Either a GI series or an endoscopy may be warranted.

  1. Just recently I experienced heart attack symptoms, but my doctor said it was acid reflux. Could that be right?

The symptoms of acid reflux and heart attacks can be confusing. Obviously it is most important to rule out a heart problem, as that can be a life-threatening condition. Once a heart problem is ruled out, then a GI work-up should be pursued. Ruling out a heart problem would usually, depending on age and risk factors, include an EKG, stress test and possibly even a coronary angiogram. Check with your doctor to see if a cardiology consult is warranted.

Todd Eisner
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Todd Eisner

Todd wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Digestive Health.