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Have you ever experienced such severe acid reflux that you wake up with a fit of coughing? If so, you could be suffering from GERD Cough. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, GERD, is a digestive disorder that is described as the return of stomach contents back into the esophagus or mouth. As many as 64,000 people in the United States suffer from the disease. The condition is also commonly called “acid reflux” or “heartburn.” GERD is like heartburn on an atomic level.

Curiously, not all people who have GERD experience heartburn, but it is one of the most common symptoms associated with the disorder. Other symptoms include regurgitation and an acidic taste in the mouth from stomach acids entering the esophagus. While GERD can be taken care of through diet and weight loss in many instances, sometimes that is not enough. Some patients will require medication or surgery to combat and correct the condition.

In addition to the symptoms listed above, GERD can also leave ulcers in the lining of the stomach and esophagus. Besides the obvious complications of the ulcers, including pain and acid sensitivity to certain types of food, they can ultimately erode through the esophageal or stomach lining. This can damage adjacent organs like the throat.

What Is GERD Cough?

Also known as “acid reflux cough,” this condition is somewhat of a mystery to many physicians. It is a persistent, dry cough that many GERD patients experience. The cough tends to get worse at night, possibly because of lying down flat in a bed. However, it’s a chronic cough that can show up at various times; the cough isn’t limited to bedtime, though.

Some will notice that their coughing fits begin after eating a meal. Coughing after eating is common with GERD Cough. Acid enters the esophagus above the first esophageal sphincter muscle. When this happens, it enters the throat and the voice box. In turn, the chronic irritation causes a sore throat, hoarseness, even laryngitis. The length of time voice involvement is present is unknown.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina found that over 25 percent of all cases of a chronic cough is related to GERD. Acid can enter the throat causing the chronic coughing, but the majority of people who experience this do not have classic symptoms. They also found that even non-acidic reflux can cause the related coughing and it is a bit of a mystery.

GERD is the largest reason for a chronic cough when critical factors like asthma, smoking or a post-nasal drip aren’t present. Many times, chest X-rays will come back normal leaving doctors scratching their heads. Ruling out other contributing factors to chronic coughing can make a diagnosis and treatment plan difficult. Thanks to GERD cough research, more people are being diagnosed and receiving help.

More on GERD cough in the video below:

Diagnosis of GERD Cough

Diagnosis of a GERD-related cough is a lengthy ordeal. This process includes the consideration and diagnosis of other conditions before GERD. Your doctor may not immediately diagnose your problem if you don’t have the most common symptoms of GERD. In cases like that, a cough associated with a digestive disorder is very low on a doctor’s radar.

Doctors perform other tests after all the common reasons for a chronic cough are ruled out. Perhaps the most common test is an upper endoscopy (EGD). An EGD involves a tubular scope with an attached camera. A doctor inserts the scope into the esophagus and guides it into the stomach. It allows the doctor to observe the lining of the esophagus, stomach and the upper portion of the small intestine. The doctor looks for inflammation, irritation and the existence of ulcers. All these signs point to GERD and the genuine possibility of a GERD Cough.

Another test performed in tandem with the EGD is known as a 24-hour Ph Probe. This test shows if acid is present in the esophagus and monitors the level over an entire day. A doctor inserts a small tube into the esophagus. A Ph meter at the end of the tube tracks the level of acid in the throat. The doctor removes the tube in-office after 24 hours and assesses the amount of acidity found.

In addition to tests, doctors consider certain lifestyle factors before associating a chronic cough with GERD. If the patient smokes, it increases their chances of GERD. Obesity worsens the symptoms and complications of GERD, and doctors factor one’s weight into their patient’s diagnosis. In addition to weight, doctors will note pregnancy. Many women experience GERD for the first time while pregnant. The condition goes away for many women after the baby’s birth.

Can you die from stomach ulcers?

Ulcers play an essential part in assessing the severity of GERD and doctors look to them as signs of present acid reflux in patients. As mentioned earlier, ulcers cause quite a bit of damage to the lining of our digestive organs. However, there is a myth that ulcers only affect your stomach lining and that simply is not true.

The fact is that ulcers can be killers. In certain instances, ulcers lead to blood loss. This occurs when the ulcer at the site of a blood vessel. If rapid bleeding occurs from the site, a patient can die. These ulcers can cause slow bleeding, as well. In this case, they are much more treatable and less dangerous.

Besides blood loss, ulcers can perforate the stomach and esophagus. These perforations allow bacteria and food contents from the guts to enter into the abdomen cavity which can quickly turn septic. Sepsis is a blood infection that can infect all organs and causes them to fail. It is vital to visit an emergency room if you experience sudden abdominal pain.

Below is a photo of an ulcer in the stomach lining:

GERD Cough can cause stomach ulcers

Image: Public Domain, by Ed Uthman, MD, via Wikimedia

How to get rid of GERD Cough

Simply put, treating GERD Cough is the same as treating GERD. Lifestyle changes are fundamental, including dieting and smoking cessation. Certain foods and drinks make GERD worse. Some of these include caffeinated beverages, chocolate, citrus, certain spices, and tomato-based foods. Weight loss helps with lessening GERD symptoms, and doctors have seen improvement after a loss of just five pounds. The excess weight leads to the weakening of the muscle at the top of the stomach. Doctors also recommend eating smaller meals and not eating several hours before bedtime.

GERD cough, laparoscopic surgery to treat it

Image: Public domain, by Samuel Bendet, via Wikimedia

The treatment of GERD may involve medications, including over-the-counter antacids. Doctors will perform surgery when antacids and lifestyle changes fail. A fundoplication connects the upper part of the stomach to the esophagus to reduce reflux. It bypasses the weak sphincter muscle that causes GERD, and many patients see a world of difference afterward.

Don’t Mess Around, Go to the Doctor

Keep in mind, if you have irritation of the throat or acid reflux and heartburn, ask your doctor about GERD Cough. This is not something that you want to mess around with. Sometimes we go through life and just deal with really annoying problems or pain, forgetting that none of that is healthy. I’ll repeat it: it is not normal for you to be in pain or coughing constantly. Your doctor can help you.

Even if you are not in pain, if you have had a normal chest x-ray, GERD cough is still a likely, treatable, cause. Here is Dr. Jeffrey Weiland, MD, a pulmonologist at The Ohio State University, talking about that chronic cough:

Jeffrey Weiland, MD, a pulmonologist at The Ohio State University


Featured image: CC BY-SA 2.0, by GabboT, via Wikimedia