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Digestive Disease Week - High cost of waiting too long

MOLNDAL, SWEDEN -- If you experience heartburn two or three times a week, go and see your doctor. That's the message from new research, released at the U.S. Digestive Disease Week in San Francisco.

Study investigator, Professor Labenz of Jung-Stilling Krankenhaus, Siegen, Germany, said: "Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) sufferers are unnecessarily exposing themselves to a greater risk of serious complications by delaying diagnosis and treatment. Your doctor can prescribe highly effective therapy for GERD and keep open a watchful eye for complications."

Symptoms of GERD may affect up to one quarter of the population. The most common symptoms are frequent heartburn (more than twice a week) and regurgitation of gastric acid.

Up to one half of GERD patients experience extra-esophageal symptoms. All of these symptoms are caused by the reflux of gastric acid into the esophagus, which happens when the valve linking the stomach to the esophagus does not completely close. Not only does the reflux of gastric acid cause burning pain, but the soft tissue lining the esophagus may also be damaged.

About one third of those with GERD will develop open sores of the esophagus, a condition known as esophagitis. A smaller group of sufferers may go on to develop Barrett's esophagus, a more serious complication by which the esophageal lining hardens and thickens. There is evidence to show that people with Barrett's esophagus have a higher risk of developing esophageal cancer.

The five-year multi-centre study, involving 6,215 GERD patients, was commissioned by AstraZeneca, the manufacturer of Nexium (esomeprazole). Results highlight that three of the more common complications of GERD -- extra-esophageal symptoms, esophagitis and Barrett's esophagus -- are all more frequent in adults who have experienced GERD symptoms for longer than one year.

The major concern is that, on average, GERD sufferers put up with their symptoms for a year before even consulting their physicians, thereby needlessly increasing their risk of complications.

Additional, independent risk factors for esophagitis include being male, overweight, a smoker and enjoying a regular consumption of alcohol.

Independent risk factors for Barrett's esophagus include being male, a smoker, an older adult and a history of esophagitis.

Older patients who experience severe esophagitis were also more likely to suffer extra-esophageal disorders than a younger patient without esophagitis.

However, everyone who experiences regular heartburn should have their symptoms investigated.

Source: AstraZeneca

Posted: May 2002

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