Understanding the Basics of GERD
Asthma and Other Complications
GERD can lead to the reflux of fluid into the lungs; this can result in choking, coughing, or even pneumonia. In some patients, reflux may worsen asthma symptoms. Treating GERD may help improve asthma symptoms in these people. And GERD can be worsened by asthma and by some of the medicines that are used to treat asthma.
GERD can also lead to chronic hoarseness, sleep disturbance, laryngitis, halitosis (bad breath), growths on the vocal cords, a feeling as if there is a lump in your throat, earaches, and dental problems.
What Causes GERD?
When you swallow, a muscular valve known as the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, which is located where the esophagus joins the stomach, opens to let food into your stomach and then closes to keep your stomach contents from coming back up. The major cause of GERD is that this valve does not function the way it should -- either because it is weak or because it relaxes inappropriately. A hiatal hernia (in which a portion of the stomach protrudes above the diaphragm into the chest) and poor esophageal muscle contractions can also contribute to GERD.
Diet and lifestyle also play a role. Fatty foods, mints, chocolate, alcohol, coffee, and tea, all relax the LES. So does nicotine from cigarettes or chewing tobacco. Hormonal changes associated with pregnancy can temporarily weaken the LES, too. Obesity can lead to GERD because the pressure of extra weight pushing on your abdomen may "overpower" the LES, allowing reflux to occur. The same mechanism explains reflux that may occur when you bend over at the waist.