Gastroesophageal reflux disease, better known as GERD or acid reflux, is a condition that typically develops slowly over many years. Consequently, most of our questions come from adults over 45 years old. However, we occasionally hear from younger adults, as is the case with this RefluxMD member. Because GERD is a progressive disease, it is important for those younger sufferers to manage their disease aggressively to avoid future complications.
QUESTION FROM CALIFORNIA:
I was diagnosed with GERD at the age of 12. I am now 24, and I have severe symptoms everyday. I have medications at home, in my car, and at work. I have always been mindful of avoiding foods that I know worsen my symptoms, but I still find no relief. Recently I have started regurgitating with my other symptoms, and my pain has been unbearable in my stomach and throat.
I don’t bother visiting a doctor because they prescribe me antacids that don’t work. Is age a big factor in determining severity? Is there anything else I can do to manage my symptoms?
Thank you for your question. As background, in addition to regurgitation, you also indicated that your frequent symptoms are heartburn, chest pain, a chronic cough, and frequent throat clearing. You exhibit both traditional GERD symptoms as well as LPR symptoms, which must be very difficult and painful. Frequent regurgitation is the symptom that concerns us the most and it typically suggests that your GERD stage has progressed to Stage 3, which is advanced and problematic.
Learn more: The progressive stages of GERD
Another issue is that GERD symptoms over a 10-year period or longer are an “alert” condition, which raises your health risks. Our concern, and I’m sure yours as well, is that your disease could progress to Barrett’s esophagus or adenocarcinoma over time. In a research study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that several factors, including the duration of the disease, frequency of symptoms, and regurgitation, raised the risk of these complications:
- The risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma was almost eight times as high among persons in whom heartburn, regurgitation, or both occurred at least once a week as among persons without these symptoms.
- The risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma also increased with an increasing duration of symptoms.
- The frequency of symptoms of reflux was strongly linked to the risk: the more frequent the symptoms, the higher the risk.
Your condition is something to take very seriously and you certainly should consider seeing a GERD expert for a complete work up. Since your are not seeing doctors currently, it is important that you consider an endoscopy to evaluate your esophagus and confirm no further progression of your disease. Unlike the doctors you have seen in the past, RefluxMD’s GERD experts do not recommend lifetime medications as the answer, rather they will provide you with all of your treatment options, including surgery, if appropriate.
Learn more: GERD treatment procedures at-a-glance
You have several top GERD experts near you, and one that you should consider is John Lipham, MD, at the Hoag-USC Center for Digestive Diseases. He is the chief of the division of Upper GI and General Surgery as well as an associate professor of surgery at the Keck School of Medicine. He is a known GERD expert and has all the diagnostic capabilities to fully evaluate you and provide you with every treatment option. He is also one of the few surgeons certified to perform the LINX procedure.
Our medical advisors believe that in cases like yours, where you have 1) maintained a healthy BMI, 2) adopted a GERD-friendly diet, 3) made the necessary lifestyle changes, and, 4) utilized medications to reduce stomach acid, AND you are unable to achieve satisfactory symptom relief, antireflux surgery should be fully explored and considered.
Today there are many surgical options to choose from and Dr. Lipham is the ideal physician to explore those alternatives with you. Given your young age and inability to manage your symptoms, we highly encourage you to take the next step. I hope this helps you find your path to relief and good health.