The Risks of Untreated GERD

April 11, 2016

Popping antacids like candy? Approximately one in five Americans develop GERD, the medical name for acid reflux disease, in which acid from the stomach flows up into the esophagus, causing frequent, sometimes daily symptoms.

While heartburn is common, it’s not always present: for some, the signs of GERD include a chronic cough, sore throat, hoarseness, wheezing (often mistaken for asthma), sinus issues or even chest pain — frequently prompting a trip to the emergency department.

If left untreated, acid reflux can scar or damage the esophagus — a condition called Barrett’s Esophagus — which significantly increases the risk of esophageal cancer, explains Eugene Yoon, MD, St. Jude Heritage Medical Group, and Medical Director of GI Services at St. Jude Medical Center.

“Anyone with long-standing reflux should be screened for Barrett’s Esophagus. While the number of esophageal cancer cases remain significantly small, it is the fastest growing cancer in America and offers one of the lowest survival rates,” says Dr. Yoon, explaining that just a decade ago, “watchful waiting” was the only option, followed by a complicated surgery to remove part of the esophagus. “Today, through a minimally-invasive endoscopic technique, we’re able to destroy any abnormal cells before cancer can form.”

Called radiofrequency ablation, this sophisticated technique is among the services that have placed the St. Jude Knott Family Endoscopy Center on a level with select academic research hospitals. By bringing together state-of-the-art technology and experts in their field, the Knott Family Endoscopy Center continues to rapidly advance care beyond the community standard — not only in the treatment of Barrett’s Esophagus but for many of today’s most common GI conditions.

For instance, St. Jude gastroenterologists routinely use a new minimally-invasive technique to remove cancerous polyps within the GI tract, replacing a complicated and lengthy open surgery. An innovative diagnostic technique, called double-balloon enteroscopy, is allowing — for the first time — the endoscopic evaluation and treatment of symptoms originating from the small intestine. And a stateof- the-art minimally-invasive treatment for GERD, in which a flexible bracelet of magnetic titanium beads is placed around the esophagus to support the muscles that form a natural barrier to reflux, is giving patients back symptom-free lives.

“We are one of the few medical centers in Southern California with the expertise and technology to offer this level of care,” says Dr. Yoon, who specializes in several unique procedures, including the endoscopic evaluation of patients with altered GI tracts due to weight loss surgery. “The exceptional outcomes routinely created here are almost unheard of among community hospitals, allowing us to make a significant difference in our patients’ health and quality of life.”

To find a St. Jude gastroenterologists visit us at or call (877) 459-DOCS (3627).

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