For more than 30 years, we've known about the connection between asthma and gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD. GERD is often called heartburn, but heartburn is actually just one of the symptoms. We've also known that GERD can trigger asthma symptoms, and that anywhere from 50% to 80% of people with asthma have GERD.
But what hasn't been clear was which was the proverbial chicken and which was the egg. In other words, did GERD cause asthma... or did asthma cause GERD?
Good news! A new study out of Duke University has found evidence that GERD can be a causative factor in the development of asthma. The study was done with mice, so obviously more research will be needed to confirm if things work the same with humans. Still, the results are intriguing.
To mimic humans' inhalation of tiny droplets of gastric fluid in GERD, doctors injected mice's airways with gastric fluid. They then watched to see what would happen to the mice's immune systems. (Asthma causes changes in the immune system that trigger symptoms in the airways.)
What they found was that there were changes typical of asthma. They then compared these results to results from mice exposed only to airborne allergens, but not gastric fluid and did not find the same changes.
So, the researchers have concluded that chronic aspiration of even tiny amounts of gastric fluid can push the immune system towards an asthmatic response... at least in mice. Further study will determine if this is true of humans too.
The good news for people with GERD is that asthma is not an automatic guarantee. GERD is very amenable to control through lifestyle changes and medication. And if GERD is in control, then asthma may be prevented. Here are some things you can do to control GERD, if you have it, and reduce your risk for getting asthma:
- Make healthy food choices. Limit your amount of fatty foods, alcohol, and caffeine drinks.
- Eat smaller meals that don't put as much stress on your digestive system.
- Don't eat right before bed. Give your food time to digest before lying down.
- If symptoms bother you at night, raise the head of your bed up a few inches.
- Keep your weight in a healthy range.
Another thing this study may have shed some light on: GERD is becoming more and more common, due to lifestyle factors in the Western world. This may be a partial explanation for why asthma, especially in adults, is on the rise too.
Are you an adult who was newly diagnosed with asthma? Had you ever you been tested for GERD?
Published On: July 30, 2008