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The Connection Between Indigestion and Breathing Problems

When someone is diagnosed with GERD or acid reflux disease, they are already well aware of many of the symptoms. They probably experience upset stomach, acid pain in the esophagus and throat, and they may already know that they need to adjust their diet, eat smaller meals and take some form of medication. What might surprise them is that there are other impacts that GERD can have, and one of those factors is the lungs. There are many people that have indigestion and breathing has become a problem for them. When a person isn’t aware of the connection between GERD and breathing things can become very scary.

Most patients are aware that acid from the stomach can back up into the throat, mouth and even make it as far as the sinuses. What many don’t realize however, is that it can seep into the lungs as well (called aspiration), causing damage and bringing on a host of problems.

People suffering with uncontrolled reflux often experience wheezing and other breathing difficulties, and they may go through a myriad of tests that are inconclusive until the reflux and lung connection is found. Most people with GERD know they have it, but there is a small percentage that have no idea it is a problem for them, and that makes the connection harder to find.

The stomach is equipped to deal with its own acid, but the other parts of the body are not. Even so, there can be damage in the stomach from the acid. This usually is found in the form of an ulcer. Though acid causes damage to the esophagus it can handle it in small doses, with damage occurring only over time.

The lungs, however, are very vulnerable when acid reaches the tissues, and damage will follow quickly. The larynx (or voice box) will be the first place with noticeable damage. The larynx performs the role of opening and closing to allow air into the lungs.

People with acid moving through the voice box might experience coughing, a rough voice, and some pain in the area. When the acid leaks into the lungs (usually while lying down at night) the lungs react to protect themselves from the caustic substance.

Normally, in healthy lungs there are small hair-like cilia lining the lungs that helps move toxins and mucus out of the lungs keeping them clean. However, when acid is present the cilia will be replaced with a growth much like the lining of the esophagus to protect the lungs. When this happens, the lungs struggle to perform their self-cleaning role like they normally do, and breathing problems are a result.

Left untreated, lung problems can become very serious. Infections can develop and turn into pneumonia and it can also trigger asthma. If left untreated, this can lead to serious and permanent damage to the lungs.

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When it comes to indigestion and breathing problems, there should be immediate treatment to get the acid reflux under control. Though heartburn might seem like an inconvenience at first, it is best to get it treated as soon as possible before the acid causes irreversible damage to other systems and organs of the body. Medications can clear things up in early cases, but other intervention might be necessary for severe cases and to get to the root cause of why the reflux occurred in the first instance.

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