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Can Acid Reflux Trigger an Asthma Attack

written by: bjlbyron • edited by: lrohner • updated: 2/24/2011

Can acid reflux trigger an asthma attack? Read on to learn whether leading experts believe there is a connection between acid reflux and the onset of asthma symptoms.

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    The Acid Reflux Disease And Asthma Connection

    Acid reflux disease, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, is a condition in which stomach acid flows backward into the esophagus due to a problem with a particular sphincter muscle located at the lower portion of the esophagus. This muscle normally serves to prevent such backward flow of stomach acid. Since the lining of the esophagus is highly susceptible to acid, the lining becomes irritated when exposed to acid, causing the sufferer to feel symptoms. These symptoms include mild to extreme heartburn and severe erosion of the lining of the esophagus.

    Asthma is a chronic inflammatory condition which affects the airways of the respiratory system. People who suffer from asthma typically experience one or more of the following symptoms: coughing, wheezing, chest constriction and shortness of breath. In the worst cases, anaphylactic shock and possibly even death can occur.

    Although there is no obvious connection between acid reflux disease (a condition predominantly of the digestive system) and asthma (a condition predominantly of the respiratory system), these two disorders appear to be strongly linked in some way. Specifically, it has been observed that up to 75 percent of all people who suffer from acid reflux problems also struggle with asthma symptoms. This observation has led many to wonder "Can acid reflux trigger an asthma attack?".

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    Can Acid Reflux Trigger an Asthma Attack?

    The short answer to the question posed immediately above is that no one is sure. Many health experts, however, have observed that acid reflux, and particularly severe cases of acid reflux, can exacerbate already existing asthma symptoms. In addition, it has been observed that many medicines that are designed to alleviate acid reflux symptoms, such as the proton pump inhibitors Prilosec and Nexium, for example, can reduce the severity of asthma-specific symptoms. When taken together, these two observations strongly suggest, but do not definitively prove, that there is a credible connection between acid reflux disease and asthma.

    Any conclusive proof that acid reflux can induce or exacerbate asthma symptoms will have to be demonstrated through further scientific research, which, due largely to the frequent incidence of acid reflux disease and asthma in humans, is being conducted by many different research groups throughout the U.S. and elsewhere. In one particularly relevant and promising finding, one scientific team has shown in mice that presence of even a small amount of acid in the esophagus is sufficient to trigger changes in the immune system. This is interesting because it has long been known that events that occur in the immune system give rise to asthma attacks.

    This article is only meant to provide some basic background information regarding acid reflux disease and asthma, and, in particular, it is only meant to provide basic information regarding the question "Can acid reflux trigger an asthma attack". This article in no way is meant to replace the good advice of your doctor.

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    References

    Cleveland Clinic, GERD and Asthma: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/gastroesophageal_reflux_gerd/hic_gerd_and_asthma.aspx

    J. Ryen Doyle, FoxNews.com, Asthma, Acid Reflux: What's the Connection? http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,396842,00.html

    J.T. Li, Mayo Clinic, Is there a connection between asthma and acid reflux?: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/asthma-and-acid-reflux/AN02116