Problems while breathing can occur due to a variety of illnesses and conditions. Usually, patients experience difficulty breathing due to asthma, a common disease affecting millions of Americans, or to seasonal allergies. Breathing problems while exercising can be a sign of more serious diseases, such as angina or heart attack.
However, it is normal to experience shortness of breath when exercising enough to raise your heart rate. In fact, exercising to the point of breathing heavily is a healthy way to ensure that you do not suffer from being over weight.
The Connection to GERD
GERD is a disease of the upper digestive system, so for some it is hard to understand why this could cause breathing problems. The explanation may be simple. When a patient has GERD, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) stops functioning correctly. The LES is meant to allow food to travel to the stomach. When food is through, the LES closes off the stomach so that stomach contents do not move back up into the esophagus.
When stomach contents, which are highly acidic, are allowed into the esophagus on a regular basis, the esophagus begins to be irritated and can become inflamed. The sensation produced by an inflamed esophagus is known commonly as heartburn, or acid reflux.
Acid reflux, or the movement of stomach acid into the esophagus, can progress upwards into the throat, mouth, and even the nasal cavity. When stomach acid is present in these parts of the body, other side effects occur. For example, in the mouth the teeth may begin to decay due to high acidity.
If stomach acid seeps into the throat, and the throat becomes inflamed and irritated, usually the patient feels a sore throat. Other patients experience the sensation of the throat seeming to close or of a lump in the throat. These symptoms are also normal for people with GERD, and often the sensations begin to cause breathing problems.
Asthma and GERD
Unfortunately, most people do not know that difficulty breathing can be a sign of GERD. Breathing problems are not connected to acid indigestion in most peoples minds, so when reporting problems breathing to a doctor, a patient will often omit the fact that they also experience heartburn on a regular basis.
Diagnosis of GERD can be very difficult, especially if heartburn is not a major symptom. In the case of patients with silent GERD, the only symptoms experienced will seem unrelated to the digestive system. Patients with silent GERD do not experience acid reflux.
Many patients diagnosed with adult onset asthma later find that they are in fact experiencing breathing problems due to GERD. While a doctor may not be able to diagnose GERD correctly due to the insufficient description of symptoms from the patient, there are other ways to determine whether or not problems breathing are due to GERD or asthma. Primarily, a patient with GERD will not find symptoms are relieved when using traditional treatments for asthma. Asthma medication does not work if breathing problems are caused by GERD.
If you have been diagnosed with asthma, but your medication does not work, ask your doctor about trying an antacid to determine whether or not your difficulty breathing is caused by the presence of stomach acid in the throat and mouth.
Treatment for Breathing Problems due to GERD
The treatments for breathing problems that are a symptoms of GERD are the same as the treatments for GERD. Initially, it may be helpful to take antacids or other GERD medications to help reduce the instances of breathing problems and other symptoms. However, using these medications is not a cure for GERD.
Patients with GERD should never assume that a medication which stops symptoms is going to cure the disease. In fact, it can be dangerous to use medications that only treat the symptoms, as it allows the patient to ignore the disease. Medications should always be used with the oversight of a doctor and should be used in the short term while other changes are made to treat GERD.
Treatment for GERD may be simple, but each case of GERD can require a slightly different combination of treatments. For example, some GERD sufferers find that they are only experiencing chronic acid reflux because after meals they do something that pushes the contents of the stomach upwards towards the esophagus.
Other patients find that they have specific triggers, which are easily avoided, such as sodas, caffeine, alcohol, or tobacco products. Yet other patients find they need to change their diet dramatically, eating healthier and getting exercise so they can lose weight. Being over weight significantly increases the risk of experiencing GERD.
Warnings about Breathing Problems
Never ignore symptoms that affect your ability to breath. While some people with GERD experience mild symptoms, patients who have difficulty breathing doing normal, every day tasks are probably at risk of a more serious disease or condition. For example, shortness of breath is a symptom of heart attack, and experiencing shortness of breath combined with chest pain may signal that you are having a heart attack. Never hesitate to call 911 if you think someone you know is having a heart attack.
Long Term Effects of GERD
GERD may seem like an inconvenience and a painful disruption to your every day life. However, the long term effects of ignoring GERD or only treating symptoms are much more serious. GERD has been linked to development of other conditions, such as esophagitis and Barrett’s esophagus, which are both serious diseases that cause difficulty swallowing and serious pain. Malnutrition and rapid weight loss can occur, and this will lead to even more serious complications. Additionally, Barrett’s esophagus has been linked to the development of esophageal cancer, a particularly grim form of cancer. Patients diagnosed are usually given a prognosis of approximately 18 months. Taking appropriate steps to treat GERD early is very important and could save your life. Talk to your doctor of you think you may have GERD.