Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affects nine to ten percent of people worldwide. With COPD, an individual experiences inflammation of the lungs, which prevents oxygen from flowing properly from the lungs to the bloodstream. More than half of those who suffer from severe COPD also experience gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition where stomach acids back up from the stomach into the esophagus.
Some symptoms of GERD include chest pain; ear, nose and throat disorders; indigestion; coughing; wheezing and abdominal pain. When gastric acid reaches the back of the throat, it can cause a sour taste in a person’s mouth and can also be inhaled into the lungs, which can cause pneumonia or bronchitis.
Steps to Reduce GERD Flare-Ups
Because GERD can worsen COPD symptoms, including frequent coughing and difficulty breathing, it is important to take steps to reduce the likelihood of experiencing GERD if you have COPD. While no one knows the exact cause of GERD, following the subsequent guidelines will help reduce the likelihood of experiencing GERD symptoms:
- Eat smaller meals.
- Avoid eating before bedtime.
- Limit the following types of foods: fatty, fried, highly acidic (citrus fruits, tomatoes) and spicy foods.
- Refrain from consuming garlic, onions, mint and chocolate.
- Drink fewer caffeinated drinks.
- Exercise good posture.
- Use an extra pillow when sleeping as raising your head helps.
- Avoid drinking alcohol.
- Don’t smoke.
- Get fit; obesity can cause GERD.
- Be mindful of certain medications that bring about symptoms: calcium channel blockers, theophyllines, nitrates and antihistamines.
- Certain medical conditions can put a person at risk, including hiatus hernia, pregnancy, diabetes and rapid weight gain.
GERD can be very difficult for people with COPD. Dr. David Mannino, pulmonologist at the University of Kentucky, says, “For patients with COPD, GERD can be especially bothersome, as they typically do not have a great deal of reserve lung capacity.” There are medications that can treat the symptoms of GERD, like heartburn, but they don’t actually treat the condition itself. Because of this, being mindful of causes and taking steps to prevention are extremely important for managing both GERD and COPD symptoms.
How are GERD & COPD Linked?
It is unclear as to why COPD sufferers also suffer from GERD and vice versa, but an article from the Annals of Thoracic Medicine offers some suggestions. Many GERD sufferers develop pulmonic issues, particularly if they’re experiencing acid reflux at night while sleeping and inadvertently inhaling liquid into their lungs. GERD is often associated with chronic cough, bronchial asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and interstitial fibrosis.
Conversely, COPD frequently leads to GERD. Many medications used to treat COPD actually weaken the esophageal sphincter, therefore causing acid reflux. Also, according to the COPD Foundation, many COPD sufferers have air trapped in their lungs, which increases pressure on the abdomen, which can cause acid reflux.
While there isn’t a cure for COPD or GERD, the symptoms can certainly be managed to make life with these conditions more manageable. If you suffer from COPD and GERD, follow the suggestions listed above to minimize the effects of symptoms.
If you or a loved one suffers from a lung disease like COPD, the Lung Institute might be able to help. Contact a patient coordinator today at (800) 729-3065 to find out if you qualify for stem cell therapy.