Acid reflux occurs when some of the stomach’s acidic contents move up into the esophagus (some people refer to this as heartburn, but that’s only one symptom). It can be caused by weight gain, lifestyle changes, genetics, and medications (antibiotics, antidepressants, cancer treatments, steroid or immune-suppressing drugs, OTC and prescription pain drugs, and long-term antacid use). Regardless, the acid irritates, inflames, and erodes the esophageal lining over time, which can increase your risk of esophageal cancer.
Chronic acid reflux, where it occurs several times weekly or starts to interfere with everyday life, is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. In the United States, approximately 20 percent of the adult population experiences GERD weekly. In addition to a burning sensation in your chest (heartburn), symptoms also include a sour taste, regurgitated food in the back of your mouth, indigestion, and trouble swallowing. Some people don’t realize they’re experiencing acid reflux because their symptoms seem unrelated, but a chronic cough, wheezing, and even mild chest pain (especially while lying down at night) can be signs of GERD.
One thing to keep in mind is that stomach acid is part of your immune system; it kills foreign microorganisms on contact. It’s also critical for breaking down food so your intestines can absorb all the nutrients. Now you can see why shutting down acid production for a long period of time increases the risk of several problems.