Chances Are, If You Have COPD, You're Likely to Develop GERD. Here's What You Need To Know.
Up to 50% of people with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) are likely to develop another common chronic condition called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as acid reflux or chronic heartburn).
COPD, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is a long-term lung disease that blocks airflow and makes it difficult to breathe. In the US today, COPD affects more than 16 million people, and millions more are undiagnosed and untreated.
Lesley Williams, respiratory therapist and Apria’s Market Clinical Trainer says, “GERD can make it harder to manage COPD, which may lead to worsening symptoms and exacerbations. That’s why it’s important to understand GERD and how to treat it.“
What is GERD?
GERD is a digestive disorder that affects about 1 in 5 people in the US.
It occurs when the gastric acid in your stomach flows up into your food pipe (esophagus) rather than down into your small intestine. This happens when the valve between your stomach and esophagus doesn’t close properly.
Gastric acid can burn the lining of your esophagus. It can also be inhaled into the lungs, which can lead to pneumonia, bronchitis, chronic cough, or interstitial fibrosis. These potential effects make GERD even more severe in people with COPD.
Symptoms of GERD include:
- A burning sensation in your chest
- Regurgitating food or sour, bitter-tasting gastric acid into your throat or mouth
- Chest pain
- Difficulty or pain when swallowing
- Sensation of a lump in your throat
- Coughing and wheezing
- Ear, nose, and throat problems
What Are The Risk Factors of GERD?
The number one risk factor for GERD—and COPD as well—is smoking.
Other risk factors include:
- Drinking alcohol and caffeinated beverages
- Eating foods that are fried, fatty, spicy, or chocolate-based
- Having other chronic illnesses: hiatal hernia, gastroparesis, asthma, and peptic ulcer
- Taking certain medications: aspirin, ibuprofen, tetracycline, iron supplements, statins, anticholinergics
Lesley also adds, “Women with COPD are more likely to develop GERD than men. Also, older people have an increased risk of GERD.”
What's The Link Between COPD and GERD?
Two common symptoms of COPD are labored breathing (dyspnea) and lung hyperinflation (when air gets trapped in the lungs and causes them to overinflate). Research suggests that these symptoms increase pressure on the abdomen, which causes the valve between your esophagus and stomach to malfunction. The result: acid reflux.
GERD may also cause a higher rate of acute COPD exacerbations, including shortness of breath, increased mucus production, a persistent cough, and extreme fatigue with confusion.
It's also thought that some medications used to treat COPD, such as beta-agonists, corticosteroids, and bronchodilators, may weaken the valve between the esophagus and stomach, worsening the symptoms of GERD. This can lead to an increased risk of hospitalization and ventilation for people with COPD.
How Do You Manage GERD?
Like COPD, there is no cure for GERD. But you can take steps to manage it effectively:
- First and foremost, if you smoke, stop
- Avoid spicy foods, chocolate, and caffeine
- Put a limit on your alcohol intake
- Don’t eat just before bedtime
- When you hit the hay, use an extra pillow to keep your head elevated [this will also help improve your breathing]
- Stay active—follow a regular exercise routine
- Medications such as antacids may provide some relief—but discuss with your doctor before starting
- Inform your doctor of any medications that may be contributing to your symptoms
Lesley closed in saying, “Of course, always continue your COPD treatment as prescribed by your doctor.
The Better You Manage GERD, the Better You’ll Control COPD
Understanding the consequences of GERD and how to best manage it will help you effectively manage your COPD—and enhance your quality of life.
If you think you have any symptoms of GERD, be sure to talk to your doctor, who can help diagnose and treat it.
Apria is a leader in COPD management
We offer custom treatment plans, work closely with your physician’s office care team to manage your COPD through its many stages, deliver a wide range of treatment options, and provide ongoing monitoring to optimize your treatment. Learn more.
1. Johnson, C. (2021, July 10). COPD and GERD: What is the link between the two? Carenity. https://www.carenity.us/condition-information/magazine/news/copd-and-gerd-what-is-the-link-between-the-two-1036.
2. Leader, D. (Updated 2022, June 12). Living With GERD and COPD. VeryWell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/how-common-is-gerd-in-copd-914675#:~:text=2%EF%BB%BF%20GERD%20also%20appears,exacerbation%20if%20you%20have%20COPD.
3. Bryson, S. (2020, March 12). Acid Reflux Linked to Higher Risk of COPD Exacerbations, Review Suggests. COPD News Today. https://copdnewstoday.com/news/gerd-acid-reflux-linked-higher-risk-acute-copd-exacerbations-review-suggests/.
4. MacNaughton, K. (Updated 2020, April). GERD and COPD: What You Need to Know. COPD Net. https://copd.net/clinical/gerd-gastroesophageal-reflux-disease.
5. COPD and GERD. COPD Foundation. https://www.copdfoundation.org/COPD360social/Community/COPD-Digest/Article/467/COPD-and-GERD.aspx.
6. Howley, EK. (2017, August 11). What Other Conditions Are Associated With COPD? US News + World Report. https://health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/2017-08-11/what-other-conditions-are-associated-with-copd.
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