Gastroesophageal reflux disease in COPD: links and risks

Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis. 2015 Sep 14;10:1935-49. doi: 10.2147/COPD.S77562. eCollection 2015.


COPD is a long-term condition associated with considerable disability with a clinical course characterized by episodes of worsening respiratory signs and symptoms associated with exacerbations. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is one of the most common gastrointestinal conditions in the general population and has emerged as a comorbidity of COPD. GERD may be diagnosed by both symptomatic approaches (including both typical and atypical symptoms) and objective measurements. Based on a mix of diagnostic approaches, the prevalence of GERD in COPD ranges from 17% to 78%. Although GERD is usually confined to the lower esophagus in some individuals, it may be associated with pulmonary microaspiration of gastric contents. Possible mechanisms that may contribute to GERD in COPD originate from gastroesophageal dysfunction, including altered pressure in the lower esophageal sphincter (which normally protect against GERD) and changes in esophageal motility. Proposed respiratory contributions to the development of GERD include respiratory medications that may alter esophageal sphincter tone and changes in respiratory mechanics, with increased lung hyperinflation compromising the antireflux barrier. Although the specific cause and effect relationship between GERD and COPD has not been fully elucidated, GERD may influence lung disease severity and has been identified as a significant predictor of acute exacerbations of COPD. Further clinical effects could include a poorer health-related quality of life and an increased cost in health care, although these factors require further clarification. There are both medical and surgical options available for the treatment of GERD in COPD and while extensive studies in this population have not been undertaken, this comorbidity may be amenable to treatment.

Keywords: COPD; GERD; pulmonary aspiration; treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Comorbidity
  • Disease Progression
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / diagnosis*
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / epidemiology*
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / physiopathology*
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / complications*
  • Quality of Life
  • Risk Factors