The Connection Between Heartburn and Asthma Explained

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It is believed that more than 80% of asthma patients also suffer from recurrent heartburn, a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). People who have asthma are twice as likely as those who do not have asthma to have GERD. 

Doctors aren’t sure why the two are so closely related, but they know it has something to do with stomach acid and your airways.

The Link Between Asthma and GERD

Asthma symptoms can be triggered by GERD and vice versa, according to research. Keep reading below to understand how both disorders coincide.

How GERD Causes Asthma

In general, reflux can induce asthma symptoms in two ways.

1. Stomach acid that escapes into the esophagus sets off a chain reaction that causes asthma symptoms. The irritated nerve endings in the esophagus send signals to the brain due to the refluxed stomach acid. 

As a result, the brain sends signals to the lungs, stimulating muscle and mucus formation in the airways. As a result, the tiny airways of the lungs constrict, resulting in asthma symptoms.

2. In many cases, doctors believe that the refluxed stomach contents reach the lungs directly. This is referred to as aspiration. The foreign substance irritates the airways, causing wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and other asthma symptoms.

It is possible to have GERD without experiencing typical heartburn symptoms. By asking you specific questions, your doctor can determine if “silent” GERD impacts your asthma.

GERD is frequently the cause of your asthma if:

  • As an adult, you begin to experience asthma symptoms.
  • When you eat, exercise, or lie down, your asthma worsens.
  • You don’t respond well to asthma medications.
  • You frequently cough or have a raspy voice.

How Asthma Triggers GERD 

Just as GERD may worsen and induce asthma symptoms, asthma can intensify and trigger GERD symptoms. Pressure shifts in the chest and belly, for example, during an asthma episode, are thought to worsen GERD.

The increased pressure on the stomach caused by swollen lungs may cause the muscles that generally prevent acid reflux from relaxing. This enables stomach acid to return to the esophagus.

What to Do When You Have GERD and Asthma

Acid reflux treatment can significantly help in alleviating symptoms. You may be able to treat acid reflux using over-the-counter medicines, such as omeprazole, a proton pump inhibitor (Prilosec OTC). Avoiding reflux triggers, including fatty meals, alcohol, and cigarettes, also makes a huge difference.

If it isn’t enough, you may require prescription medicines. If you have asthma and suspect you have acid reflux, consult your doctor about the best treatment options.

Asthma medicines might aggravate acid reflux in some situations. This is especially true with theophylline (Elixophyllin, Theo-24, Theochron). However, do not discontinue or modify your asthma medication without first consulting your doctor.

Final Thoughts

Before attempting any herbs, vitamins, or other therapies, speak with your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe an efficient treatment plan that will help you avoid the symptoms of asthma and GERD.

Reflux Away is the leading resource on heartburn, filled with articles and guides on what heartburn is, dealing with it, and so much more! Check out our blog if you want to learn more about acid reflux treatment information.