Knowing Family Health History Helps Prevent GERD, Cancer

Thanksgiving Day is also Family Health History Day, a day to communicate about chronic conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) that can run in families. About 15 million Americans experience heartburn symptoms of chest pain, burning throat and chronic cough on a daily basis, and these warning signs are common indicators of GERD.

GERD May be Genetic

Although most people think certain foods and stressful situations trigger acid reflux, many studies suggest GERD may also have a genetic component. In 1999, the Mayo Clinic studied over 1,500 people in Minnesota and found that participants who had an immediate family member with heartburn or a disease of the stomach or esophagus were twice as likely to experience heartburn or acid reflux.

Chronic heartburn and acid regurgitation may lead to Barrett’s esophagus, a complication of GERD that can evolve into esophageal cancer. Specific gene mutations on chromosomes 6 and 16 have been linked to Barrett’s esophagus, and a 2016 study discovered distinct genetic patterns among GERD, Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer.

Family Health History Conversations Save Lives

You can increase GERD awareness among your family members by initiating a conversation about family health history on Thanksgiving Day. Ask any of your family whether they have experienced heartburn. Mention the symptoms of GERD including:

  • Chest pain
  • Acid reflux
  • Sour taste in the mouth
  • Burning in the throat or chest
  • Dry cough
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Sore throat
  • Lump in the throat

Remind your family members they can reduce their risk for GERD and GERD-related complications by eating smaller meals, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding heartburn trigger foods.

Visit a Gastroenterologist

Finally, encourage your family members to schedule a visit to a gastroenterologist after the holiday. GERD is a serious health concern, so frequent heartburn should not be ignored. Make this Thanksgiving meaningful and memorable by discussing family health history. Your discussion could help family members get the digestive care they need.