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What causes heartburn to affect patients with asthma:

Heartburn occurs when the valve between your stomach and esophagus doesn’t function properly allowing stomach acid to flow back up the esophagus. This condition is called Acid Reflux or GERD. Since your esophagus doesn’t have the same protective lining as your stomach, the acid may cause the walls of the esophagus to become irritated or inflamed. This can stimulate an asthma attack in two ways:

  1. Stomach acid touches the esophageal nerves. This reaction tells your brain that your airways are being attacked causing them to narrow setting off asthma symptoms.
  2. Stomach acids may actually get into your lungs. The acid will irritate your lungs causing you to wheeze, cough and feel like your chest is tightening.

What causes asthma to affect heartburn?

For some patients the asthma medications they take may actually cause acid reflux to occur. That’s because some medications may affect the muscle which controls the opening between your stomach and esophagus. If the opening is affected, it will allow acid to seep into the esophagus. And, other asthma medications may also impact the way the esophageal muscles work, which do not allow it to perform it’s function properly.

What’s GERD got to do with it?

For patients with chronic acid reflux, or GERD, who also have asthma, the cycle of asthma and GERD symptoms can be frustrating. For many, the answer lies in controlling the GERD. Talk to you doctor to see if you can work on a new treatment plan. Some patients may respond to a change in medication, while others may benefit from diet or lifestyle changes (see below), or surgery may ultimately be the best option.

How do you know if GERD is affecting your asthma?

  • If you were an adult when your asthma started.
  • If when you exercise, eat or lie down your asthma gets works
  • If asthma treatments don’t work well for you.
  • If you cough or are hoarse.

How can you alleviate symptoms?

  • Wear loose clothing. Stay away from belts or snug waistlines.
  • Eat small meals more often. Avoid large, heavy meals.
  • Make gravity your friend and sleep with your head elevated 6-8 inches.
  • Avoid fatty, greasy or spicy foods.
  • Lose weight. Dropping extra weight will relieve pressure on your stomach
  • If you smoke – stop.

About the Heartburn and Esophageal Disorders Center

The UT Health Austin Heartburn and Esophageal Disorders Center has assembled a team of experts that includes a gastroenterologist, surgeons, and associate providers, imaging experts, a dietitian and social workers. This team enables us to provide the right care for the right patient at the right time. For some patients, nonsurgical interventions such as lifestyle modifications and medications can help improve symptoms of reflux, while surgery may be the best course of action for others. Whatever your needs, our team is here to listen and work with you to develop a treatment plan that is right for you.