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Heartburn/GERD Health Center

Heartburn, Reflux Seen in 9/11 Survivors

New Study Shows Lingering Health Effects of People at Ground Zero
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GERD-Cancer-9/11 Question? continued...

American Journal of Gastroenterology Co-Editor in Chief William Chey, MD, says the new paper sheds light on the 9/11-GERD connection. He is a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor.

“By no means does this study suggest that there is an increased risk of cancer,” he says.

“The individuals involved with 9/11 had a significantly increased risk of developing GERD symptoms,” he says. “A lot of us would have assumed that it was related to PTSD and asthma, but 9/11 was an independent risk factor for these symptoms.”

Something in or about the dust may have irritated the esophagus or made it more sensitive to acid, he says. “If you are having frequent heartburn or regurgitation that occurs more than three times per week, particularly at night that interferes with your sleep, or difficulty swallowing, see a doctor,” he says.

“Frequent severe heartburn can be a sign of something more sinister, and there are very effective therapies for these symptoms,” he says.

Dust Inhaled and Swallowed

The new findings are “not unexpected,” says E. Neil Schachter, MD, the medical director of respiratory care at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.

The asthma-GERD connection is a well-known one, he says.

There are some safety mechanisms in place that prevent what we eat or drink from entering our lungs (aspiration), he says.

After 9/11, “all that stuff that was breathed into the back of our throats got mixed in with saliva and we swallowed it,” he says.

This may have irritated the upper GI tract and caused some of the symptoms seen in the new study, he says.

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