The intricate relationship between the mind and body is frequently demonstrated in how psychological stress can lead to physical ailments. Among these are anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), two mental health conditions that have been linked to an increased risk of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), a chronic digestive disorder.
GERD is characterized by frequent acid reflux—the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus. This can cause symptoms like heartburn, regurgitation, and even difficulty swallowing. Persistent GERD, if left untreated, can lead to more severe complications, including esophageal ulcers or strictures.
Linking PTSD to GERD
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder emerges from traumatic events, often leading to chronic stress, flashbacks, and a heightened state of anxiety termed hyperarousal. This constant state of stress and hyperarousal can significantly impact digestive health, leading to issues like GERD. Studies on US veterans and veterans of other countries have shown that veterans with PTSD are much more likely to have GI symptoms and disorders.
Both anxiety and PTSD can activate the body’s stress response. When faced with stress, the body goes into the “fight or flight” mode, releasing stress hormones like cortisol. While this response is essential for immediate reactions to threats, chronic activation can lead to various health issues. For the digestive system, elevated cortisol can disrupt its functions, leading to increased stomach acidity and decreased blood flow, impacting tissue repair and muscle reflexes in the stomach and esophagus.
There are also additional connections between PTSD and GERD:
Lifestyle: People with anxiety or PTSD may develop certain habits like smoking or consuming alcohol to cope. Both smoking and excessive alcohol can weaken the LES (lower esophageal sphincter), leading to acid reflux.
Medications: Some medicines used to treat anxiety or PTSD can lead to GERD or exacerbate its symptoms. For instance, certain anti-anxiety drugs can alter the esophagus’s muscular contractions, impacting its function.
Sleep Disruptions: Anxiety and PTSD can cause sleep disturbances. A lack of proper sleep can worsen the symptoms of GERD, creating a vicious cycle.
Service connection for GERD secondary to PTSD
When a veteran’s service-connected condition, or the treatment for the condition, causes another medical condition, the veteran can receive compensation for the secondary condition. Secondary service connection is provided for affected veterans in 38 CFR § 3.310.
VA Rating for GERD Secondary to PTSD
If you have GERD and the VA determines that it is caused by your service-connected PTSD then the rating will be assigned just as though it is a primary connected condition. There is no VA diagnostic code specifically for reflux so the GERD VA rating is often done using the code for a hiatal hernia, as the symptoms are very similar. You can read about how GERD VA rating works here.
Has the VA denied your claim for GERD secondary to your PTSD? We can help with your appeal. Contact us today for a free case evalution.