The connection between the stomach and coughing is usually not understood by the layman. After all, the stomach is in the abdomen and the coughing is a reaction of the lungs in the chest – two separate parts of the body. However, there is a close relationship and it is associated with what is known as acid reflux. Acid reflux is a common condition that most people experience at some time or another in the form of a sharp pain the lower chest area. It is commonly referred to as heartburn. It often happens after overindulging in rich food and is caused by stomach acid flowing back up the food pipe. The acid causes the burning sensation and coughing.
While an occasional attack of acid reflux is normal, it can turn into a serious problem in some cases. This is called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). A person with GERD will typically experience the pain and discomfort of acid reflux at least twice a week. Additional symptoms of GERD can include wheezing, difficulty in swallowing, belching and a persistent cough.
GERD and Chronic Coughing
GERD is a known cause of persistent coughing. In many cases, there may not be the accompanying pain of heartburn, although acid reflux is the cause because of the irritation it creates. It is likely that a person may have GERD if:
- The coughing is mainly at night or after a meal.
- Coughing is more frequent when lying down.
- Coughing occurs when there is no apparent reason
- There are no other medical conditions, such as asthma, which could cause the coughing.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Because coughing could be due to a large number of factors, identifying GERD as the cause requires that specialized medical tests be conducted. Among them are the use of endoscopy or a measurement of the pH levels in the food pipe which, will show if acid reflux is the cause. Lifestyle evaluation is also used to determine if GERD is the cause. This includes factors like:
- Being overweight
- Consuming foods that can increase the symptoms of GERD such as – alcohol, caffeine, citrus fruits, garlic, fried and/or fatty foods chocolate, spicy foods and so on.
Treating acid reflux and the coughing it causes requires both medications as prescribed by a doctor as well as lifestyle modifications. Typically consuming antacids to control the reflux, foaming agents to reduce the amount of stomach acid present and prescription medications are what a doctor will prescribe, although this will depend on the case specifics.
Lifestyle changes can be very effective in controlling or, in some cases, even stopping acid reflux and GERD. These include:
- Identifying foods that increase acid reflux and stopping their consumption.
- Not lying down for at least 2 hours after a meal.
- Eating smaller meals but increasing the number of meals in a day.
- Weight reduction.
- Stopping smoking.
- Raising the head of the bed to about eight inches higher than the foot. The bed must be at an incline so that gravity can work against the reflux. Using extra pillows will only raise the head and will not work.
- Wearing clothes that are loose around the waist so there is no pressure on the stomach.
In extreme cases, surgical options may be tried.
If you suffer from acid reflux or the symptoms of GERD, consult a doctor without delay.