Tobacco Use and GERD

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Tobacco Use and GERDTobacco use may cause acid reflux and symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a medical condition that may cause an uncomfortable burning sensation beneath the breastbone and may even cause long-lasting tissue damage.

Tobacco use increases the risk for symptoms of GER – short for gastroesophageal reflux. GER happens when stomach contents flow back up into the esophagus, which is the tube that carries food and liquid from the mouth to the stomach. Tobacco users face a higher risk for symptoms of GER.

Some people refer to GER as acid reflux, because stomach contents contain digestive acids. This reflux of acids into the esophagus can cause individuals to taste acid or food in the back of their mouths. Refluxed acid that touches the lining of the esophagus can cause heartburn, otherwise known as indigestion.

Heartburn is the main symptom of GER, but some people with acid reflux do not suffer from indigestion. Other symptoms of GER include a dry, chronic cough, nausea and vomiting, a sore throat or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, pain in the upper part of the abdomen or chest, dental erosion, and bad breath. In addition to increasing the risk for these symptoms of GER, tobacco use can mimic many of these symptoms to mask the presence of GER.

Tobacco and GERD

GERD is a more serious and long-lasting form of GER. This chronic disease starts when the muscle that acts as a valve between the esophagus and stomach, known as the lower esophageal sphincter, weakens or relaxes at times that it should not. This weakness or relaxation of the sphincter allows stomach contents to back up into the esophagus.

Tobacco consumption, by either smoking or chewing, increases the risk for acid reflux in several ways. The use of tobacco inhibits the production of saliva, which acts as a buffer against acid. Tobacco also increases production of stomach acids. Nicotine, a main component of tobacco smoke, relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter.

Quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke can reduce the symptoms of GER and decrease the risk for developing GERD. To reduce the risk for GERD and the symptoms of GER, doctors recommend that patients quit tobacco products, avoid foods and beverages that contribute to heartburn, lose weight, eat less, and take over-the-counter antacids.

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