By: Wyatt Redd
If you have fibromyalgia, you might have noticed that the symptoms everyone thinks of, chronic fatigue, pain, and mental fog, aren’t the half of all the things your struggle with. Fibromyalgia seems to make you more vulnerable to a host of other ailments. And they’re often things you don’t associate with the disease like chronic itching, frequent urination, and autoimmune disorders. But there’s also another complication that people don’t often think about: GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease.
This condition, which causes stomach acid to wash back up into the esophagus, is painful and frustrating to have to live with. But it can also lead to a serious complication called intestinal metaplasia. In cases of intestinal metaplasia, the cells lining the esophagus transform into the type of cells you usually see in the intestine. So what exactly is this condition and how is it related to fibromyalgia? What are the symptoms and risks? And what can you do to treat it?
Intestinal Metaplasia And Fibromyalgia
Metaplasia is a term that means that one type of cell mutates into a different cell. When it comes to intestinal metaplasia, the cells in the esophagus turn into intestinal cells, resulting in a condition called Barrett’s esophagus.
Basically, the cells of your body adapt to their environment. And when the cells in the esophagus constantly sense that they are exposed to gastric acid as a result of GERD, they shift to become intestinal cells since intestinal cells are adapted to dealing with that acid.
And having fibromyalgia puts you at a much higher risk of developing GERD. In fact, almost sixty percent of people with fibromyalgia suffer from some form of heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease. We don’t know why having fibromyalgia seems to increase your risk. And it may be that the chronic pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia tend to lead to people with fibromyalgia being unable to exercise and thus being at a higher risk of obesity, which is a significant risk factor for heartburn.
GERD causes a chronic flow of acid into the esophagus, making GERD the most significant risk factor for developing Barrett’s esophagus. And that can cause a lot of complications.
What Are The Symptoms And Risks?
Most people with Barrett’s esophagus don’t notice any symptoms at first. They will of course still struggle with the symptoms of GERD, but it’s hard to tell if the cells in your esophagus have shifted to intestinal cells. This shift in the makeup of your cells doesn’t really affect the ability of your esophagus to do its job, especially when only a small portion of the cells are affected.
The real danger is not the symptoms that Barrett’s esophagus causes, but rather the fact that it raises your risk of cancer significantly. Having Barrett’s esophagus makes you fifty times more likely to develop esophageal cancer. That’s because the mutating cells in the esophagus are more likely to become cancerous. And esophageal cancer is very dangerous. Eighty-two percent of esophageal cancer cases end up being terminal. So, getting treatment as soon as possible is vital.
How Is It Treated?
The first step in treatment is getting a diagnosis. Because Barrett’s esophagus doesn’t lead to any noticeable symptoms, it’s more likely that the doctor will notice the condition while checking for a related acid reflux condition. To diagnose the condition, doctors do something called an endoscopy. This is essentially a procedure where the doctor will push a small, flexible camera down the esophagus to do a visual inspection of the damage.
The doctor will then take a small biopsy of tissue from the esophagus and examine the tissue under a microscope to see if metaplasia has occurred. Once you’ve got a diagnosis, there are a few ways to treat the condition.
The first step is to minimize the risk of cancer. This usually involves basic treatments for acid reflux and lifestyle changes to reduce risk. Things like smoking and alcohol use are not only a significant factor in acid reflux but can raise your risk of cancer. By making changes to these habits and your diet, you can help reduce the amount of acid reflux you experience and reduce your risk of cancer.
There’s not a good option for reversing the change in cells in the esophagus, but they can be removed surgically. However, most doctors feel that the risks of this surgery are not worth the benefits. Instead, doctors recommend combining prevention efforts with regular cancer screening. In this case, that’s really the best option.
So, do you have Barrett’s esophagus? What did you do to treat it? Let us know in the comments.