Trouble breathing - is this a side effect of GERD?

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Forest Hiker
New Member


Date Joined May 2011
Total Posts : 8
   Posted 5/25/2011 2:30 PM (GMT -6)   
Hello HWites!

I have had GERD for nearly 10 years and have managed it with Prevacid, Omeprazole, and more recently Zegerid. In addition I have learned
* to refrain from eating late in the evening,
* to watch my weight,
* eschew deep fried foods,
* avoid excessive alcohol and chocolate late at night, and
* to sleep on a triangular pillow that lets me rest at a slight angle.

When I do all these things, I can avoid the awful reflux attacks that wake me up coughing in the middle of the night.

The condition has worsened a bit over the years, but controlling my weight has had a large impact. I'm not sure whether I've stabilized the condition or not, but until recently it was managable.

But since January I have experienced a remarkable shortness of breath whenever I exercise. Even though I am (as my moniker indicates0 an avid hiker often covering 10-15 miles in an afternoon, I can barely climb the short hill outside my house without having to stop because my chest is aching so intensely it feels like it's burning. If I stop for a few minutes, I can then resume the climb. Cold and wet weather exacerbate the condition, and trying to "power through" the attacks doesn't work. After longer hikes I usually feel worse, not better.

Until recently, I thought that this might be asthma, but I've never had any allergies or asthma before. Yes, I know you can get it when you're older (I'm 59), but I don't have the other symptoms usually associated with asthma like mucus, coughing or sever constriction of breathing. Our Spring in Oregon has been particulary bad for asthma sufferers, so I'm not counting it out as a possibility - but it just doesn't feel like the right diagmonsis.

Recently, I've been trying to correlate my behavior with the sudden onset of my breathing issues and it occurred to me that during this time I had done two things differently:
* it switched from Omeprazole to Zegerid
* I didn't sleep on my elevated pillow.

Is it possible that, despite not waking to acid reflux attacks, I was actually spilling acid/reflux into my lungs and deteriorating their oxygen-absorption capacity? It often feels like I've got a "walking pneumonia" - no dramatic distress, just a very shallow breathing capacity that leaves me oxygen starved and my chest aching! Is there any know correlation between GERD and shortness of breath.

I recently switched back to sleeping on the elevated pad and it "seems" as if I'm regaining some breathing capacity - but it's really too soon to tell.

Any words of experience, advice, etc. ?

- Forest Hiker

couchtater
Elite Member


Date Joined Jul 2009
Total Posts : 12398
   Posted 5/25/2011 3:27 PM (GMT -6)   
Yes, that's probably the cause.
I found raising the head of the bed works better than the triangle pillow.

What kind of testing have you had done for your gerd? Have you consider going on nexium?
Joy

Forest Hiker
New Member


Date Joined May 2011
Total Posts : 8
   Posted 5/25/2011 3:43 PM (GMT -6)   
The pillow I'm using goes under the mattress and raises the head of the bed as you suggested. I haven't done any testing since I was first diagnosed about 10 years ago - and I can't remember what they did then.

I haven't tried Nexium. How is it better than the rest of these medications?

Jim

couchtater
Elite Member


Date Joined Jul 2009
Total Posts : 12398
   Posted 5/25/2011 5:15 PM (GMT -6)   
In my opinion nexium is ten time stronger than the others. You'll have to have a perscription. Also if you have any damage (erosion) it heals it.
Joy

Forest Hiker
New Member


Date Joined May 2011
Total Posts : 8
   Posted 5/25/2011 5:27 PM (GMT -6)   
Does the erosion also affect your lungs?

couchtater
Elite Member


Date Joined Jul 2009
Total Posts : 12398
   Posted 5/25/2011 6:23 PM (GMT -6)   
Acid can get into the lungs and cause lung issues.
For me it aggrevated my asthma more, caused sinus and ear issues.
After my surgery I haven't had my ususal three times a year bout of bronchitis/pneumonia.
Joy

dencha
Forum Moderator


Date Joined Feb 2009
Total Posts : 6934
   Posted 5/27/2011 1:45 PM (GMT -6)   
Dear Forest Hiker,

Welcome to Healing Well! I'm similar in age, and have dealt with reflux for probably 15 years.

I went from one PPI to the next in an effort to keep my asthma (and reflux) in control. I would guess that if you went to a GI doc, he/she would change/increase your PPI meds.

As my reflux worsened, I went from 20mg Prilosec (omeprazole) before dinner, to 20mg before breakfast and again at dinnertime. Then to 40mg once a day, then twice a day. I was then switched to 40mg Nexium twice a day. After ending up in the hospital with reflux related asthma, I was switched to 40mg Protonix twice a day. In addition to the Nexium and Protonix, I was also taking 300mg Zantac at bedtime.

Long story short, as my reflux got worse (and it was never all that bad, but it doesn't take much to get reactive lungs going) my asthma got out of control. I ended up on all kinds of steroids--both oral and inhaled--and I was taking nebulizer treatments several times a day. After waiting far too long (partly because the GI doc was unimpressed with my reflux volume) I finally had the Nissen Fundoplication surgery in February 2009. After about 2 and a half months of healing, my lungs improved tremendously.

You can have silent GERD and not even notice the reflux that can cause your lung issues. Yes, yes, yes reflux can cause breathing problems. You can get what seems to be asthma just from exposure to reflux. It's not something to play around with, as it can lead to COPD if your reflux is severe enough.

My asthma doc says that hiking or walking can be just enough up and down movement to splash reflux out and into your lungs.

He also said that GI docs don't know how just a little acid effects lungs, but rather are focused only on how much acid it takes to cause changes in the esophagus.

If you can put risers or blocks under the legs at the head of your bed it will work even better than your wedge pillow. If you slide down with the wedge it can put your body in a position that puts pressure on your stomach. Elevating the legs/head of your bed 8 inches would be very helpful (although annoying--especially for a non-suffering husband/wife/partner!).

You're going to want to protect your lungs so you can continue to pursue your passion for hiking (it's my favorite activity as well). Be sure to get to a doc ASAP and get working on this problem. Don't let them put you off. You know how you feel!

Good luck! Let us know how things progress.
Denise

hurtandscared
Regular Member


Date Joined May 2011
Total Posts : 148
   Posted 5/27/2011 4:44 PM (GMT -6)   
I feel like i have asthma too, but they say ur oxygen levels are at 99. But why then do i still have problems breathing. How should i bring it up with my doc? Im scared they will think im crazy. I dont want it to lead to copd. I just want to be able to breathe good again. I hate walking around everyday and nite feeling like this. Dont want to die from this. It doesnt help that i have anxiety 2:( Im going to have to talk to my doc about it.
GENE anxiety attacks, severe acid reflux, breathing problems, depression.

Forest Hiker
New Member


Date Joined May 2011
Total Posts : 8
   Posted 5/31/2011 1:31 AM (GMT -6)   
Denise:

Thanks for the thoughtful answer. It helps me understand how the mostly "silent" GERD has been affecting my lungs. And yes, you're right the walking about resulted in decreased lung functions the next day. My type of hiking is more akin to clambering (bushwhacking through thick Northwest forests) so if there is spillage from exercise as you're suggesting that might account for the immediate deterioration of lung capacity.

So bricks are better than the wedge, eh?

I'm also working on diet control - no more wine, reduce the coffee, better portion control especially at dinner.

Any issues with Nexium? I'm thinking that this is the next step, alongside the lifestyle changes...

Jim

Sheila1366
Regular Member


Date Joined Aug 2005
Total Posts : 384
   Posted 5/31/2011 7:56 AM (GMT -6)   
My gerd has ral bad lately and I have noticed that it is harder to take a deep breath. I love to sing and singing is very hard at times.

Sorry you are having such a tough time.
Fibromyalgia,Gastroparesis,Heital Hernia,Gastritis,Gerd,IBS,Depression,Dsyautonomia,Raynauds Syndrome

couchtater
Elite Member


Date Joined Jul 2009
Total Posts : 12398
   Posted 5/31/2011 10:06 AM (GMT -6)   
I took nexium before the surgery. I was able to take it for about 9 years before it stopped working for me.
Joy

Forest Hiker
New Member


Date Joined May 2011
Total Posts : 8
   Posted 5/31/2011 1:11 PM (GMT -6)   
Apparently, there are many folks whose GERD affects their lungs, yet most of the basic descriptions of GERD omit mentions of breathing issues and focus instead on the "heartburn" aspects. Even though I've had GERD for years, until recently I saw nothing to link my breathing problems to it.

Much of what I have read suggests that lung issues need to be tended pronto, or else there can be irreversible damage. What has the collective experience been with improved breathing as a result of medication or surgery?

I seem to recall that I had a similar bout of "breathlessness" last spring, but it improved as the summer warmth reduced the moisture in the air...really we do get SOME sunshine in Oregon. My improvement may have been due to elevated sleeping, so I am uncertain what helped restore lung capacity, but whatever it was there was improvement - so it may be reversible?

Your experiences?

Jim

couchtater
Elite Member


Date Joined Jul 2009
Total Posts : 12398
   Posted 5/31/2011 2:04 PM (GMT -6)   
Since my surgery I no longer cough constantly. I don't have the three times a year sinus/bronchitis/pneumonia I suffered with for the three years before the surgery. My asthma attacks are few and far between. It takes a full year for me to use up my rescue inhaler. This is wonderful for me because I've developed an major allergy to all antibiotics.
Joy

dencha
Forum Moderator


Date Joined Feb 2009
Total Posts : 6934
   Posted 5/31/2011 8:41 PM (GMT -6)   
Hi Jim,

Some people will respond to just medication, and can keep their lungs healthy without surgery. Nexium was my second PPI, and I used it for several years, although I can't tell you how long. When I was hospitalized for asthma caused by GERD (triggered by antibiotics that caused gastritis) the switched me to Protonix.

I did not find medication to be enough to keep me healthy. My lungs were in horrible shape on 40mg Protonix twice a day. My reflux wasn't all that impressive...my last one was a DeMeester score of 14, which is at the high end of the normal range. My asthma doc says that that range only indicates normal for esophageal damage, not lung damage.

I was taking a nebulizer several times a day for the last year before I had surgery. As I said, after my surgery (when my lung infection cleared and I had time to heal...2 and a half months) my lungs were cured. I no longer had to use a nebulizer or take high doses of steroids.

I do have allergies, so I still take some steroids for my nose and lungs, but it's not for reflux.

I had the surgery, but I do still take Protonix 40mg before dinner. I don't get heartburn, and wouldn't take it if I didn't have asthma. It's just a proactive measure to help protect them. I also have a very reactive stomach, and it gets flaring up often. The PPI can keep the acid down and help it recover.

Another member here, LadyJane, had severe reflux which caused lung damage. She improved greatly after surgery, though. She says they told her she was headed toward having to use oxygen if she hadn't had the surgery.

As far as the head of the bed goes...you can buy risers at Target or Bed Bath and Beyond (or a similar store). They raise the bed 4 inches. Then get it up the rest with 2X6 pieces or blocks. That seems to work well, although i've done it with just stacks of boards or blocks before. The risers seem more stable, though.

Hope you get things figured out soon.
Glad you've joined us!
Denise

Forest Hiker
New Member


Date Joined May 2011
Total Posts : 8
   Posted 6/1/2011 7:18 PM (GMT -6)   
Denise:

Thanks for the very informative post. I see that I've got a lot to learn. I'll be starting in with the doctors soon, since I haven't been to my regular doctor since 09 and the last time I saw my GERD doc I still had a full head of hair...

This forum gives me a great head start, because like the rest of you I have learned that it's dangerous to expect your doctor to help educate about your illness. Unfortunately, it's really our responsibility to be informed about what's going on - especially since there are now such good resources such as this group.

Jim

dencha
Forum Moderator


Date Joined Feb 2009
Total Posts : 6934
   Posted 6/1/2011 9:47 PM (GMT -6)   
Hi Jim,
You are so right...we do need to become informed. Before I decided to go forward with the Nissen surgery I spent a lot of time looking online for information. This forum was very helpful, as the people here had a very realistic attitude toward the surgery...I was impressed that some here required a redo surgery, and were still very positive, and happy to get it. That gave me the courage to go forward. They weren't saying it was a panacea, but provided very useful information and lots of kindness and support. That was in 2009, and here I am trying to pay forward the support, information, and kindness I received.

You may not need surgery to fix your problem. You've got a ways to go before you find out just what is going on and what the best solution is. I hope you can find a good doc who is aware of the impact GERD has on lungs. If you can't find a GI doc to see the connection, I suggest you find a pulmonologist or asthma specialist who will (hopefully) be more keyed in to the effects of a small amount of reflux on the lungs.

Good luck with your quest!
Denise

Forest Hiker
New Member


Date Joined May 2011
Total Posts : 8
   Posted 6/2/2011 2:15 AM (GMT -6)   
Denise:

My wife is also a regular on the ulcerative colitis forum - she's the one that introduced me to this site. Anyway, she just had a colostomy, and it's been a gradual process for her,too. She too, got lots of good advice from folks that had been through the torments of a colostomy. Now we're dealing with the outcome of that procedure.

Recovery from surgery is pretty difficult, and learning what to eat is very confusing. The whole impact of the physical intrusion and removal of many yards of innards is pretty physically and emotionally exhausting.

As you correctly surmised I am at a much earlier stage (I think), but this site is tremendously useful for sorting out all the symptoms, the medications, the procedures and the shortcomings of our medical system. There's still much I can do through changes in diet, lifestyle, and medication - before we come to surgical intervention. But like my wife, I to make come to a bend in the road where circumstance quickly overtake me and I find it necessary to go under the knife - at least then I'll be knowledgeable about the procedure, the alternatives and the likely outcomes and recovery issues.

So thanks for the great feedback and the warm-hearted support. I will stay in touch as things progress. So far just taking the dietary changes and meal timing more seriously has begun to make a difference. I just hope that I can begin to heal my lungs enough so that I can lead a mountain-biking adventure that I promised to orchestrate in August...

Jim

dencha
Forum Moderator


Date Joined Feb 2009
Total Posts : 6934
   Posted 6/2/2011 7:09 AM (GMT -6)   
Hi Jim,
Good luck! I'm glad to hear that you are starting to respond to changes in diet. That is, of course, the first step (and sometimes the hardest!). Since you're just beginning the non-invasive treatment of GERD, it will be a while before you have a definitive answer as to whether or not that will do the trick.

Of course we will be here to support you along the way! I'm sure your wife has gone through a lot with her surgery and adjustments afterward. Glad she sent you to us!

Good luck to both of you.
Denise

Here's hoping you are well and ready for your mountain bike adventures! yeah yeah yeah

Forest Hiker
New Member


Date Joined May 2011
Total Posts : 8
   Posted 6/3/2011 11:19 AM (GMT -6)   
Thanks, I'll be back...
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