There are currently 24 million people in the United States suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Patients can experience wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. Reduced lung function can also decrease the amount of oxygen in the blood which results in hypoxia at severe levels.
More than half of severe COPD sufferers also experience the condition, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), where stomach acid bubbles up from the stomach and into the esophagus.
When gastric acid reaches the back of the throat, the lining of the esophageal wall can be worn away by the acid. This can cause symptoms such as chest pain; ear, nose and throat disorders; indigestion; coughing; wheezing and abdominal pain. Gastric acid can leave a sour taste in your mouth and then inhaled into the lungs which can cause pneumonia or bronchitis.
Steps to reduce GERD flare-ups
The exact causes of GERD are unknown, but it is known that GERD can worsen COPD symptoms. There are, however, actions you can take that will help reduce your likelihood of experiencing GERD symptoms and flare-ups.
- Eat smaller meals at regular intervals.
- Limit eating before bed.
- Avoid fried, highly acidic (lemons and tomatoes) and spicy foods.
- Drink fewer caffeinated drinks such as sodas and coffee, which are also acidic.
- Practice good posture habits.
- Use an extra pillow to raise the head while sleeping.
- Avoid drinking alcohol.
- Give up smoking.
- Lose weight.
GERD can be very difficult for people with COPD. Studies have found that the reduced lung capacity of COPD sufferers can make GERD more bothersome as coughing and wheezing are typical symptoms of both conditions.
There are over the counter and prescriptions medications that treat the symptoms of GERD but do not treat the underlying condition. 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 some COPD sufferers also suffer from GERD, but an article from the Annals of Thoracic Medicine offers some insight. It found that GERD sufferers can experience acid reflux at night and inadvertently inhale gastric acid into the lungs while sleeping. GERD is often associated with interstitial fibrosis, chronic cough, bronchial asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia, which can exacerbate your lung disease symptoms as well.
Furthermore, some medications used to treat COPD can weaken the esophageal sphincter causing acid reflux. The COPD Foundation also notes that many COPD sufferers may have air trapped in their lungs, increasing pressure on the abdomen, which can cause acid reflux.
It is unfortunate that as of yet no cure exists for either COPD or GERD However, the symptoms of both can be managed with certain lifestyle modifications and medications. Try out our tips to try and reduce the occurrence of acid reflux.
The Lung Health Institute offers alternatives to the same medications and supplemental oxygen for sufferers of lung disease. If you are suffering from COPD or another lung disease, contact a patient coordinator today at to find out if lung restoration treatment is a viable option for you.