Uncontrolled chronic heartburn ultimately leads to esophagitis, a condition that thins the stomach lining, causes esophageal bleeding, eats away at the esophagus and causes esophageal ulcers, explains WebMD. Chronic heartburn may also lead to Barrett's esophagus, a condition in which abnormal and potentially cancerous cells replace the cells the acid reflux damages.
As the esophagus becomes damaged due to chronic acid reflux, scarring often develops and causes the esophageal opening to narrow, notes WebMD. The narrowing may make it difficult to swallow foods and liquids and can cause spasms or chest pains that are similar to the symptoms of a heart attack.
Other possible long-term effects of chronic heartburn include respiratory problems, sore throat, hoarseness, persistent nausea and vomiting, and dyspepsia, explains Everyday Health. Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, quitting smoking and avoiding foods that trigger acid reflux, may help sufferers manage discomfort, but in serious cases, doctors may prescribe proton-pump-inhibiting medications or recommend surgery.
Heartburn surgery focuses on repairing or replacing the lower esophageal sphincter, which is the valve that sits at the bottom of the esophagus and keeps stomach acids from backing up, according to Healthline. A fundoplication is the standard surgical treatment for heartburn, but patients may also undergo other surgical procedures.