From The Doctor’s Desk
How is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) related to asthma?
It is estimated that more than 75 percent of patients with asthma also experience acid reflux otherwise known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). People with asthma are twice as likely to have GERD as those people who do not have asthma. Of those people with asthma, those who have a severe, chronic form that is resistant to treatment are most likely to also have GERD.
GERD is the backward flow of stomach acids into the esophagus. When this acid enters the lower part of the esophagus, it can produce a burning sensation, commonly referred to as heartburn. If left untreated, GERD can eventually lead to lung damage, esophageal ulcers, and in some instances Barrett's esophagus, a condition that can eventually lead to esophageal cancer.
Does GERD cause asthma?
Although studies have shown a relationship between asthma and GERD, the exact relationship is uncertain. GERD may worsen asthma symptoms, but asthma and some asthma medications may in turn worsen GERD symptoms. However, treating GERD often helps to also relieve asthma symptoms, further suggesting a relationship between the two conditions.
Doctors most often look at GERD as the cause of asthma when:
How can GERD affect my asthma?
As previously mentioned, the exact link between the two conditions is uncertain. However, there are a few possibilities as to why GERD and asthma may coincide. One possibility is that the acid flow causes injury to the lining of the throat, airways and lungs, making inhalation difficult and often causing a persistent cough.
Another possibility for patients with GERD is that when acid enters the esophagus, a nerve reflex is triggered, causing the airways to narrow in order to prevent the acid from entering. This will cause a shortness of breath.
What should I do if I have asthma and GERD?
If you have both asthma and GERD, it is important that you consistently take any asthma medications your doctor has prescribed to you, as well as controlling your exposure to asthma triggers as much as possible.
Fortunately, many of the symptoms of GERD can be treated and/or prevented by taking steps to control or adjust personal behavior. Some of these steps include:
Aside from these steps, over-the-counter antacids can often relieve GERD symptoms. However, if after one to two weeks these medications do not help with your symptoms, your doctor may need to prescribe medications that block or limit the amount of stomach acid your body produces. Under rare circumstances, GERD may only be treatable through surgery.
Ask us for additional information!