Heartburn and Asthma

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Although doctors are still unsure of the exact nature of the correlation, there seems to be an obvious link between frequent heartburn and asthma.

It’s estimated that over 75 percent of asthma sufferers also suffer from GERD, an acid reflux disease characterized by frequent heartburn. Asthma patients are twice as likely to have frequent heartburn as people who don’t have asthma.

One reason that GERD and asthma may be linked is that the stomach acid that flows up during heartburn is damaging to the lining of the throat, airways, and lungs. These injuries can make inhalation more difficult and lead to a persistent cough. Also, acid that enters the esophagus triggers a nerve reflex that constricts the airways and causes shortness of breath.

It’s also possible that treating asthma can actually cause heartburn. Many medications that are used to treat asthma weaken the esophageal sphincter, which is the valve responsible for keeping stomach acid from coming back up into the esophagus.

So does asthma cause heartburn, or do heartburn and acid reflux contribute to asthma?

Three Signs that Your Asthma May Be Caused by GERD:

  • Your asthma began in adulthood. This is called adult-onset asthma.
  • Your asthma symptoms get worse after a meal, after exercise, at night, or after lying down.
  • Your asthma doesn’t respond to standard asthma treatments.

If you have asthma and GERD, it’s important that you continue to take any asthma medications prescribed by your doctor. You may also find that specifically treating your heartburn and acid reflux may reduce the severity of your asthma symptoms.

How To Control Heartburn And Asthma

If you suffer from asthma and frequent heartburn, you should continue to take any asthma medications that your doctor has prescribed to you. You should also take steps to prevent heartburn and acid reflux, as the stomach acid may be contributing to the severity of your asthma symptoms.

Avoid eating before bed. Aim to finish your last meal of the day at least three hours before you’ll be lying down.

Eat smaller portions. Large amounts of food create extra stomach acid that can lead to reflux.

Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight adds intra-abdominal pressure, which contributes to heartburn.

Avoid known heartburn foods. Fatty foods, chocolate, peppermint, coffee, tea, colas, and alcohol are all common triggers for heartburn and acid reflux.

Quit smoking. Smoking cigarettes aggravates asthma symptoms and contributes to GERD by relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter.

Use antacids. Over-the-counter medications like Tums or Rolaids can help neutralize stomach acid.

Elevate the head of your bed six inches. This will allow gravity to help keep acid down in the stomach. Do not use pillows to prop yourself up in bed, as bending your body this way can actually make heartburn worse.

If lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications are not enough to prevent heartburn or acid reflux from occurring two or more times a week, you should talk to your doctor. Your physician may prescribe additional medication or recommend surgery to treat your GERD.

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