Alcohol Consumption & GERD | Effects & Risk Factors
- How Alcohol Use Affects GERD
- GERD & Barrett’s Esophagus
- Risk Factors For GERD
- Diagnosing GERD
- Things To Avoid If You Have GERD
- GERD Treatment Options
There are a number of different health conditions, as well as prescription medications, that should not be mixed with alcohol.
GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is one of these conditions.
Effects Of Alcohol Consumption On GERD Symptoms
While some individuals can continue to drink moderate quantities of alcohol without aggravating their GERD symptoms, others find that even small amounts of alcohol can worsen their symptoms significantly.
Heavy drinking and binge drinking can be especially harmful, greatly contributing to the severity of GERD in many cases. Drinking alcohol can also increase the risk that a person will develop Barrett’s Esophagus, a serious complication.
Accordingly, health care professionals are quick to advise individuals to avoid alcoholic drinks if they find that alcohol increases the severity of their GERD. They also advise to only drink in moderation if they do drink.
How Alcohol Use Affects GERD
Acid reflux is a common condition that occurs when stomach acid travels up the esophagus, the muscle-lined tube that leads from the mouth to the stomach. This can cause an unpleasant taste and burning sensation known as heartburn.
When acid reflux becomes frequent or severe, however, it is known as GERD or reflux esophagitis.
This condition can cause long-lasting discomfort ranging from frequent heartburn and chest pain to sleep disturbances, difficulty swallowing, burping (regurgitation), indigestion, and other symptoms.
Alcohol, if abused over a long period of time or in high quantities, is known to have gastrointestinal effects like irritating and triggering inflammation in the tissues of the stomach lining.
Acid Reflux Events
Alcohol also interferes with the function of the lower esophageal sphincter. This sphincter is responsible for keeping the contents of the stomach where they belong and not allowing them to travel upwards through the esophagus towards the mouth.
And while the effects of alcohol on the lower esophageal sphincter are not believed to be strong or protracted enough to cause GERD on their own, alcohol can certainly trigger acid reflux events, especially if a person is already experiencing GERD symptoms.
GERD & Barrett’s Esophagus
Under normal circumstances, the tissue of the esophagus is smooth and pink. However, if GERD persists for a long period of time this ongoing damage may, in some people, cause the lower tissue of the esophagus to darken and thicken.
While this rare and difficult-to-detect complication does not have a major impact on an individual’s symptoms, it is considered to be a serious condition as it can develop into esophageal cancer.
Alcohol misuse increases the likelihood that a person with GERD will develop Barrett’s esophagus, while also greatly increases the risk that a person may develop a wide range of other forms of cancer across the body as a whole.
Risk Factors For GERD
Risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing GERD include:
- heavy alcohol use
- hiatal hernia, a bulging at the top of the stomach
- certain connective tissue disorders
- delayed stomach emptying
Health care professionals can diagnose GERD using a few different methods:
- an upper endoscopy, in which a doctor uses a flexible camera to examine the esophagus directly
- biopsy, or removing a portion of esophagus tissue for testing
- ambulatory acid (pH) probe test, which uses a monitor placed in the esophagus to evaluate stomach acid exposure
- esophageal manometry tests, or measuring the muscle contractions in your esophagus during swallowing
- x-rays, which can visualize the upper digestive system after you a swallow a chalky liquid to highlight the lining of your digestive tract
Other Things To Avoid If You Have GERD
In addition to alcoholic beverages, if you have GERD you should avoid:
- NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen or aspirin
- eating overly-large quantities of food, especially before bed
- spicy foods
- fried foods
- fatty foods
- citrus fruits, garlic, onions, and tomatoes
- carbonated beverages
- mint and peppermints
- any other food, drink, or non-critical medication that has caused GERD symptoms in the past
GERD Treatment Options
GERD treatment options are generally intended to temporarily lower stomach content acidity, giving the tissues of the esophagus a chance to heal and restore normal function.
Potential treatments include:
- diet and lifestyle changes
- over the counter (OTC) antacids
- proton pump inhibitors
- H2 receptor blockers
Discontinuing Alcohol Use
While most Americans can stop drinking without issue if they need to, those with alcohol use disorders (AUD) may not be able to stop drinking without assistance, even if their use of alcohol is contributing to severe health problems like reflux esophagitis/GERD.
To learn about our alcohol treatment programs, please connect with us today.
Alcohol and Alcoholism - Alcohol Consumption and the Risk of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis
Mayo Clinic - Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) - Symptoms and causes
Mayo Clinic - Barrett's esophagus - Symptoms and causes
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