Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that occurs when acidic stomach juices, food, and/or fluids back up from the stomach into the esophagus. GERD affects people of all ages—from infants to older adults.
You might be surprised to learn that people with asthma are twice as likely as those without asthma to develop GERD at one time or another. In fact, research has shown that more than 75 percent of adults with asthma also have GERD. The exact connection between GERD and asthma isn’t entirely clear, but researchers have a few theories as to why the two conditions may coincide.
Asthma flare-ups can cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax, allowing stomach contents to flow back, or reflux, into the esophagus. In addition, some asthma medications may worsen reflux symptoms. Another possibility is that the repeated flow of stomach acid into the esophagus damages the lining of the throat and the airways to the lungs. This can lead to breathing difficulties as well as a persistent cough. The frequent exposure to acid may also make the lungs more sensitive to irritants and environmental conditions such as dust, pollen, smoke, and cold air which are all known to trigger asthma.
Heartburn is the main GERD symptom that adults face. In some people, however, GERD can occur without causing heartburn. Instead, symptoms may be more asthmatic in nature, such as a chronic dry cough or difficulty swallowing.
Your asthma may be connected to GERD if:
- asthma symptoms begin in adulthood
- asthma symptoms get worse following a large meal or exercise
- asthma symptoms occur while drinking alcoholic beverages
- asthma symptoms happen at night or while lying down
- asthma medications are less effective than usual
If you have both GERD and asthma, managing your GERD will help control your asthma symptoms. Studies have shown that people with asthma and GERD saw a decrease in asthma symptoms (and asthma medication use) after treating their reflux disease.
Lifestyle changes to treat GERD include:
- Elevate the head of the bed 6-8 inches
- Lose weight
- Stop smoking
- Decrease alcohol intake
- Limit meal size and avoid heavy evening meals
- Do not lie down within two to three hours of eating
- Decrease caffeine intake
- Avoid theophylline for treating asthma (if possible)
Your physician may also recommend medications to treat reflux or relieve symptoms. Over-the-counter antacids and H2 blockers may help decrease the effects of stomach acid. Proton pump inhibitors block acid production and also may be effective. In severe and medication intolerant cases, surgery may be recommended.
In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new treatment device called the LINX® Reflux Management System to offer a new approach to treating GERD. The LINX® System is comprised of a small expandable ring of linked magnetic beads. The ring is laparoscopically implanted around the esophagus to mechanically augment the function of the lower esophageal sphincter.
If you live in the Las Vegas area and are suffering from uncontrolled GERD, schedule an appointment with Dr. Shawn Tsuda. You could be a candidate for life-changing LINX surgery.