Many people look forward to the holiday season as a time to celebrate with friends and family. The holidays also are often characterized by large, decadent meals and imbibing more than may be typical.
With the combination of stress, changes in diet and increased alcohol consumption, the holidays are a time to pay particular attention to your body, especially when it comes to the health of your esophagus. Experts in the esophageal cancer specialty group within Baylor College of Medicine’s NCI-designated Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center have assembled a list of the warning signs and symptoms of esophageal disease.
There are certain warning signs to look out for when it comes to esophageal health that could indicate something more serious, such as untreated acid reflux, which can irritate the lining of the esophagus and cause complications.
It’s common to have heartburn after a large, fatty meal. However, regular heartburn, regurgitation or difficulty swallowing can be a symptom of something more serious. Certain beverages, like coffee, red wine and other alcohol, and foods such as chocolate, peppermint and tomato-based dishes, can make symptoms worse.
While it’s tempting to lay down after a large meal, this could make the heartburn worse. Instead, go for a brief walk to help digest the meal. Watching your diet, maintaining a healthy weight and certain medications can help. Though over-the-counter medications, like Tums and other medications for heartburn like Zantac, Pepcid, Nexium and Protonix, may help your symptoms, they might not be adequately addressing a potentially serious underlying problem. If you have regular symptoms or if you require these medications on a regular basis, you should be evaluated by a doctor.
“If you’re experiencing frequent or persistent heartburn or acid reflux, particularly following meals, this is definitely a symptom that you should monitor and discuss with your primary care physician,” said Dr. Brandon Smaglo, assistant professor of internal medicine in the section of oncology in Baylor’s Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Consistent acid reflux or heartburn can develop into larger problems and should be taken seriously.”
“If your primary care physician determines that further evaluation is needed, it is likely that you will be referred to a specialist to determine the cause of your symptoms,” said Dr. Shawn Groth, assistant professor of surgery in the division of general thoracic surgery at Baylor and an expert in the treatment of heartburn.
For patients with heartburn, acid reflux, GERD and Barrett’s esophagus, Baylor College of Medicine offers a comprehensive, personalized treatment plan and offers some of the latest treatments for reflux that aren’t widely available, such as the LINX device.
For patients with esophageal cancer, experts in the esophageal cancer specialty group within Baylor’s Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center are uniquely equipped to manage patients with all stages of cancer and provide an organized, comprehensive, individualized care plan, including medical oncology, radiation oncology, surgery, nutrition and social support. They offer some of the latest techniques in the removal of tumors, including minimally invasive and robot-assisted surgery for larger tumors and even complete removal of tumors with a scope through the mouth, called submucosal dissection, or ESD, for very early-stage tumors.