Workers’ Compensation for GERD

GERDGastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a digestive disorder that could have implications for your livelihood. For those who have it, it may have been onset by occupational exposure or exacerbated by work-related conditions.

In the workers’ compensation industry, GERD is most visible among first responders such as police officers, including those who worked on ground zero on or after 9/11. Many survivors of 9/11 who were in the NYC Exposure Zone immediately after the attack have also went on to collect workers’ compensation benefits. Anyone who works a night shift, however, is also at an increased risk. Common symptoms of GERD include:

Medical Facts

  • A burning sensation in the chest (heartburn)
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Regurgitation
  • Sudden excess of saliva
  • Chronic sore throat
  • A lump sensation in the throat

GERD is responsible for stomach acid that frequently flows back into the tube linking your mouth and stomach. It can be mild or severe. When left untreated, it can lead to several consequential medical conditions, such as:

  • Esophagitis is a swollen and inflamed esophagus, which can lead to painful swallowing.
  • Esophageal ulcers or sores are primarily driven by GERD. Symptoms include painful swallowing, nausea, and chest pain.
  • Stomach acid over time scars the lining of the esophagus, resulting in scar tissue, and narrow spots, forming a narrower esophagus. These are esophageal strictures.
  • About 5% to 10% of people with GERD develop Barrett’s esophagus, where stomach acid generates precancerous changes in cells. Less than 1% of people with Barrett’s esophagus will get esophageal cancer. People with GERD have a marginally higher risk of getting adenocarcinoma of the esophagus.[1]

Additional Complications

There are also other complications that GERD can have outside of the esophagus, such as in mouth, throat, or lungs. These may include,

  • Asthma
  • A recurrent or chronic cough
  • Hoarseness
  • Laryngitis – irritation of the voice box that can cause you to lose your voice for a short time
  • Cavities
  • Bad breath
  • Bitter or sour taste in the back of the mouth
  • Wearing away of tooth enamel

The Night Shift

Gastroesophageal reflux disease is surprisingly common among people, with more than 60 million Americans experiencing heartburn once a month, and 15 million suffer it daily.[2] Those who experience untreated heartburn or acid reflux may have a causal connection between their symptoms and employment. Depending on your work environment, you may be at an increased risk for GERD. Truck drivers, for example, are at an increased risk of developing GERD due to their lifestyle, which may include working overnight and eating starchy, greasy foods, known to provoke acid regurgitation.

Among certain studies, working the night shift in general may be linked to an increased risk of developing GERD. Behaviors that may correlate with working the night shift include “having dinner a few hours before going to bed, eating midnight snacks, frequently skipping breakfast, and quick eating.”[3]

In addition to the above behaviors, there are certain factors that may put you at an increased risk of developing GERD, including,

  • Being overweight or having obesity
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Being pregnant
  • Smoking or inhaling secondhand smoke
  • Having asthma

Beyond these, there are certain precautions you can take to minimize your risk of GERD. Taking antacids to help neutralize stomach acid can be taken when needed. In addition, avoiding spicy and acidic tomato-based foods can help prevent flare-ups. Coffee may relax the lower esophageal sphincter, which can be a trigger for heartburn. Avoiding high fat foods such as chocolate and cream is another measure. Lastly, eating smaller portions throughout the day is also important to not overfill your stomach.[4]

Anecdote

High stress jobs such as police work are notorious for the effect it can have on officers’ minds and bodies, from defending against protests and riots to simply the effect it can have on mental health. A Phoenix, Arizona cop, James Sandoval, developed gastroesophageal reflux disease after 25 years on the force. At the age of 46, he retired to purse other career interests due to the negative impact his work had on him. “When you work in the police department, your eating habits are terrible,” Sandoval said. “I started to have really, really bad heartburn. I know a lot of officers who have heartburn. I didn’t realize it could cause lung problems.”[5]

As a police officer, Sandoval most likely consumed fried and fatty foods, in addition to coffee, to a regular to heavy extent, triggering his acid indigestion. Late-night meals contributed towards his condition, whereby he previously stood at a weight of 250 lbs. “Police work leaves scars – not in your mind, but in your body,” Sandoval contended.[6] Sandoval was later diagnosed with interstitial lung disease due to GERD. Now, Sandoval has improved his diet and lost almost 50 lbs. to reduce his reflux.

Experiencing Frequent Heartburn? Call Our Law Firm Today.

Sandoval’s story is one that resonates with many who are obligated to change their eating, sleeping, and physical activity habits due to the nature of their work. Not everyone can pick and choose how or where they want to work. A steady income is important, and many victims of GERD have families to support. Although no one is obligated to stay at a job that may be negatively impacting their physical health, at Livingston DiMarzio, we understand that it is not as simple as quitting your job. Oftentimes there are other remedial methods available which can help a person cope with the nature of their work.

If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease, make sure to seek immediate medical attention, or take certain precautions to minimize your risk of exacerbating or continuing your symptoms. It is also important that you try to make time for self-care, such as exercise, avoiding certain foods, eating in sizable quantities, and making sure to avoid eating at certain times of the day. It is better, however, to follow the advice of a medical professional rather than seeking self-help information online, which may or may not be applicable to your condition.

Victims of GERD are already at an increased risk of injury, and some have sustained injury due to GERD that may be left untreated. Even if it is untreated, you still may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits if there is a causal connection between your injury and your job. Our GERD injury lawyers have handled cases of occupational exposure for many types of lung illnesses, including conditions of the esophagus. Call our law firm today for a free consultation at (973)-718-5173. We operate on a contingency fee basis; if we choose to take your case, you pay nothing unless you win.

 

[1] Khatri, M. (2022, February 15). The Risks of Untreated Heartburn and GERD. WebMD. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/guide/untreated-heartburn

[2] Malkovich, C. (2018, March 8). What A Relief: Retired Phoenix Cop’s Lung Disease Related to Heartburn. Dignity Health. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.dignityhealth.org/arizona/locations/stjosephs/about-us/press-center/press-releases/2018-03-08-retired-cop-lung-heartburn

[3] Chung, T. H., Lee, J., & Kim, M. C. (2016, April). Impact of Night-Shift Work on the Prevalence of Erosive Esophagitis in Shipyard Male Workers. International archives of occupational and environmental health. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4927591/#:~:text=Our%20study%20revealed%20that%20night,risk%20factor%20when%20managing%20GERD.

[4] Singh, C. (2007, March 1). Back Behind the Wheel: Coping With Acid Reflux. Truck News. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.trucknews.com/features/back-behind-the-wheel-coping-with-acid-reflux/

[5] Malkovich, C. (2018, March 8). What A Relief: Retired Phoenix Cop’s Lung Disease Related to Heartburn. Dignity Health. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.dignityhealth.org/arizona/locations/stjosephs/about-us/press-center/press-releases/2018-03-08-retired-cop-lung-heartburn

[6] Ibid.

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