A Tough Pill To Swallow: Medications Can Trigger Acid Reflux Symptoms

Know your triggers and avoid them as much as possible – it's the first step in treating acid reflux/GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). From one person to the next, triggers vary but certain foods, such as tomatoes and onions, and beverages, like coffee and alcohol, are standard fare. While most triggers are found in your kitchen, other possible culprits may be lurking in your medicine cabinet.

Considering that over 100 drugs can be problematic when swallowed, it's likely that you may have one or more at your disposal. Sometimes non-chewable pills get caught in the esophagus, where they break down and release the medication, causing damage. Tablets can also get lodged in the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES), a small valve right above your stomach, causing reflux symptoms.

On the contrary, a properly ingested pill passes through the esophagus and into the stomach or intestines before dissolving. Over time, repeated esophageal exposure to medications can lead to GERD, esophagitis and other serious diseases. In some cases, the harmful effects are worse than the ailment that prompted the medication.

Types of drugs that can cause reflux and other problems when lodged in the esophagus include:

  • Pain-relieving medications, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (ex. Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (ex. Aleve)
  • Antibiotics, such as tetracycline and doxycycline
  • Potassium chloride, which is used to treat potassium deficiency
  • Bisphosphonates, including alendronate (Fosamax), a treatment for osteoporosis (weak and brittle bones)

While food related triggers can be avoided with sheer willpower, a medication may be essential to treat a disease, relieve pain or fight off an infection. However, anyone taking medication is at risk of an acid reflux attack or other damage if pills are obstructed in the esophagus. Fortunately, there's a way to take medication to help prevent drug-induced GERD and other esophageal damage.

Tips to help a capsule pass through the esophagus quickly and into the stomach:

  • Take several sips of water to wet the throat before taking a tablet or capsule
  • Swallow the pill with at least 8 ounces of fluid
  • Take medication while in an upright or sitting position
  • Stay upright for at least fifteen minutes after taking a pill

Avoid these common mistakes when taking medication:

  • Not drinking enough water after swallowing a pill
  • Taking medication while lying down
  • Lying down immediately afterwards
  • Taking medication just before going to bed

If swallowing is painful or if the tablets or capsules get stuck in your throat, you should contact your doctor. A dull, aching pain in the chest or shoulder after taking medication is a warning sign that your pill may be lodged in your esophagus.

In the United States, approximately 1.5 billion prescriptions are filled each year. While medication can be an important part of managing disease, it can also trigger acid reflux and lead to GERD and other diseases. By taking your pills with care, you can limit your risk of drug-induced complications from obstruction in the esophagus. And, when possible, supplement or replace medications with preventative treatments that don't have unwanted side effects (always consult with your doctor first before changing a drug regimen).

Some of our customers have offered feedback, including comments about their personal experience with reducing or eliminating the need for acid reflux medication when using the MedCline reflux relief system. We're pleased to hear it and hope to help others find some acid reflux relief outside of the medicine cabinet.

References:
1. Huseyin Alkima, Mustafa Iscan. Desloratadine Induced Pill Esophagitis. Case Report Gastroenterol Research 2012;5(1):37-38. February 8, 2012.
2. Valean S, Petrescu M, Catinean A, Chira R, Mircea PA. Pill esophagitis. Rom J Gastroenterol. 2005;14(2):159-163.
3. Medscape. Drug-induced Gastrointestinal Disorders. Jun 27, 2002.
4. Mayo Clinic. Esophagitis. Sept 15, 2011.