GERD and COPD: What You Need to Know

Last updated: April 2020

Did you know that people who have COPD are at risk for another chronic condition called GERD? GERD stands for GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease, and is sometimes called acid reflux or heartburn, although heartburn is only one of the symptoms of GERD.

With GERD, a band of muscle called a sphincter that controls the flow of food between the esophagus (eating tube in the throat) and the stomach does not function as well as it should. As a result, the flow of food can back up in the wrong direction, causing heartburn and other symptoms.

20 percent of the population, or 1 in 5 people, has GERD.

But it is even more common among people with COPD. 1 in 4 of those who have COPD also suffer from GERD. GERD is also slightly more common in:

People with other chronic illnesses, such as asthma, hiatal hernia, gastroparesis and peptic ulcer may also be more at risk for developing GERD.

If you have GERD, there are also certain lifestyle factors that can worsen the symptoms:

  • Eating chocolate or peppermint
  • Eating fried or fatty foods
  • Drinking coffee
  • Drinking alcohol

Why Is GERD More Common With COPD?

Experts are not sure why people who have COPD also commonly suffer from GERD. However, studies suggest that changes in the lungs and shortness of breath may have something to do with it.

It's also important to understand that if you have both GERD and COPD, your flare ups of your COPD are likely to occur more often and be more severe. It's not that GERD worsens your actual lung condition or hastens the progression of COPD. It just seems to worsen the symptoms, which can have a big impact on your quality of life over time.

So, you can see how important it is to control your GERD, in order to optimize your COPD status. Be sure to get an official diagnosis from your doctor and then follow the treatment plan for both conditions.

Managing Your GERD

As you might expect from my statement earlier that lifestyle factors can worsen GERD, making the right lifestyle choices is the best way to control your GERD. And the good news is that making healthy lifestyle choices will also benefit your COPD status.

Stopping smoking and avoiding the foods listed above are some great first steps. You should also limit the amount of coffee and alcohol that you indulge in.

Beyond those measures, your doctor may be able to prescribe medication that can help, such as:

  • antacids
  • proton pump inhibitors
  • histamine receptor antagonists
  • promotility agents

Lifestyle changes and medication will not cure GERD any more than they will COPD, but they can greatly improve your symptoms, help prevent COPD exacerbations and promote a better quality of life!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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