We’ve all felt it. That hot, burning sensation slowly crawling from your stomach up into your chest, and even into your throat and mouth. Maybe it’s after you’ve eaten your favorite meal, or maybe you had something that was just a little bit too spicy.
Whatever the case, you’ve got heartburn (also known as “acid reflux”). It’s not a pleasant experience.
And while heartburn is a common experience, what most people don’t know is that if you experience it on a regular basis, it can actually have an effect on your life insurance.
Yep, you read that right. Acid reflux can directly affect your life insurance premium.
In this post, we’re going to break down the what, why, and how of acid reflux and how it affects your life insurance policy. We’ll explain what acid reflux is, why it occurs, how you can treat it, and what you need to know about having life insurance with acid reflux.
Let’s dive in.
What Is Acid Reflux and What Is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?
First, let’s make sure we’re clear on our terms. What do we mean when we say, “acid reflux,” and what is “gastroesophageal reflux disease”?
At the entrance to your stomach is a ring of muscle that functions as a valve. This ring of muscle, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), acts as a guard of sorts. It’s supposed to let food go into your stomach and then close so that nothing comes back out.
Problems happen when the LES stops working correctly and either doesn’t close all the way or opens up too often. If this happens, acid from your stomach can move up into your esophagus. This acid produces the burning sensation that we commonly refer to as heartburn or acid reflux.
If you have acid reflux symptoms more than twice a week, you may have acid reflux disease, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Acid reflux can seriously inflame and damage various parts of the esophagus, particularly the lining. The abrasive liquid usually contains both acid and pepsin, which are produced by the stomach (pepsin is the enzyme that begins the digestion of proteins in the stomach). The reflux can also contain bile which has backed up into the stomach from the duodenum.
GERD is a chronic condition, meaning that once it starts it’s usually lifelong. If the lining of the esophagus itself is injured, this is also a chronic condition. Even after the esophagus has healed and treatment is ended, the injury typically returns in a matter of months. All of this means that, typically, once treatment for GERD has begun, it must continue indefinitely.
What Are The Common Symptoms of GERD?
There are a number of common symptoms of GERD. The two most common are:
- Heartburn – The burning, painful sensation that moves from your stomach to your chest, and even up into your throat.
- Regurgitation – When sour, bitter acid backs up from your stomach into your esophagus and finally into your mouth.
Other symptoms include bloating, bloody or black stools, bloody vomit, burping, hiccups that won’t stop, nausea, unexplained weight loss, wheezing, dry cough, hoarseness, or a chronic sore throat.
What Causes GERD?
GERD can be caused by a number of complicated factors. Some of those factors include:
ABNORMALITIES WITH THE LOWER ESOPHAGEAL SPHINCTER (LED)
As noted above, the LED is the muscle/valve that allows food to pass into the stomach and then is supposed to prevent acid from moving out of the stomach and into the esophagus. Abnormalities with the LED can lead to GERD.
Two abnormalities, in particular, should be noted. First, if the LES contractions are abnormally weak, it reduces its ability to prevent acid from moving back up into the esophagus.
Second, if the LES experiences abnormal relaxations (“transient LES relaxations), it also allows acid to move into the esophagus. These abnormal relaxations do not occur in conjunction with swallowing (like normal) and they can last for a long time (several minutes). When the LES is relaxed for such a period of time, reflux is much more likely to occur.
A second common cause of GERD is a stomach abnormality called a “hiatal hernia”. Normally, your stomach is located below the diaphragm, which helps to keep acid in your stomach. However, if the upper part of the stomach and LES move above the diaphragm, it’s called a “hiatal hernia,” and it’s much easier for acid to travel up into the esophagus.
OTHER CAUSES OF GERD
Other common causes of GERD include:
- Drinking alcohol, carbonated drinks, coffee, or tea
- Being overweight
- Eating food too close to bedtime
- Lying down immediately following a large meal
- Being pregnant
- Eating citrus, tomatoes, chocolate, mint, garlic, onions, or spicy or fatty foods
- Taking ibuprofen, aspirin, muscle relaxers, or blood pressure medications
How Can GERD Be Treated?
There are a number of simple steps you can take to treat the symptoms of GERD.
- Avoid any foods or drinks that trigger the acid reflux
- Quit smoking
- Raise the head of your bed at least 4 to 6 inches to prevent acid from moving up your esophagus when you’re laying down
- Eat smaller meals throughout the day
- Change the types of foods that you’re eating
- Eat at least 2 to 3 hours before you lay down
- Sleep in a chair for daytime naps
- Seek to lose weight if you’re overweight or obese
- Consult with your doctor to determine if medications could be causing heartburn
Additionally, medications can help reduce the symptoms of GERD. Many times, simple over the counter medications such as Alka-Seltzer or Maalox, when combined with lifestyle changes, are enough to treat the condition.
If simple antacids don’t work, your doctor may try other medications such as:
- Foaming agents (like Gaviscon) to coat the lining of your stomach and prevent reflux
- H2 blockers (like Pepcid and Zantac) to minimize overall acid production
- Proton pump inhibitors (like Aciphex or Nexium) which also minimize acid production
- Prokinetics (like Reglan or Urecholine) which can help strengthen the LES and empty your stomach faster
How Does GERD Affect Your Life Insurance?
GERD is what is considered to be a pre-existing condition. In other words, when you apply for life insurance, the insurance company takes into account many of your different health factors, such as weight, whether you smoke, and any pre-existing health conditions that you may have. Acid reflux/GERD typically qualifies as one of those pre-existing health conditions.
In and of itself, acid reflux is not a major problem with life insurance. The problems arise from the complications that can result from an advanced case. As noted above, acid reflux can result in damage to the esophagus, including ulceration, which can lead to erosive esophagitis and esophageal bleeding.
Barrett’s esophagus is another potential problem when it comes to getting life insurance. It’s when, due to acid reflux, the tissue lining in your esophagus changes to look like the stomach’s tissue. That could put you at increased risk of a rare cancer known as adenocarcinoma.
Insurance companies will want to determine how severe your acid reflux condition is. They will want to know if you are taking an over-the-counter medication and if it’s controlling the condition. You can get an approval with a preferred rating if the condition is well controlled.
Over-the-counter medications used to treat acid reflux will usually be sufficient to control the condition. A prescription medication can be prescribed if the condition turns into acid reflux disease, and will most likely result in a standard rating.
As is the case anytime you have a health condition, underwriting will also want to know that you are otherwise in good health.
So, yes, having GERD can affect the amount you pay every month for your life insurance policy. It may cause your premiums to be higher. However – and this is critical – it shouldn’t keep you from getting coverage. Your life insurance agent should be able to find you the absolute best company and policy for people with your condition.
If they can’t, then it may be time for you to go with another life insurance agent. Your agent should always have your back, and they should most certainly be able to find an outstanding policy for someone with GERD.
Yes, GERD is a chronic condition. But it can be treated. If you have a hiatal hernia, it can be corrected. By being mindful of what you eat and when you eat, you can cut down on the amount of acid traveling up into your esophagus. And by making key lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and quitting smoking, you can reduce the overall symptoms of GERD.
Additionally, having GERD shouldn’t limit your ability to get an outstanding life insurance policy.
You don’t have to let GERD rule your life. Take control today.