The 'Today' host joked that she'd rather deal with the consequences of laryngopharyngeal reflux disease than change her diet
Today show co-anchor Savannah Guthrie shared Wednesday that she’s been diagnosed with “silent reflux” disease — but when it comes to the lifestyle changes her diagnosis requires, she admitted, “I don’t want to do it.”
NBC News Medical Correspondent Dr. Tara Narula explained the difference between gastroesophageal reflux disease — commonly known as GERD — and what Guthrie has, laryngopharyngeal reflux, or “silent reflux.”
“You can have it and not feel the typical symptoms of what we think of as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. So essentially...we have acids and enzymes — they’re not supposed to come up out of the stomach. And the esophagus, which is the tube that comes off the stomach, has two little muscles, little sphincters is what we call them. at the bottom and at the top. When those relax, and they’re not supposed to, the stomach contents and acid come up.”
With GERD, she explained, the acid ends up in the chest area, giving someone the “typical symptoms of heartburn or what we think of as GERD — chest pain or burning. However, if they come all the way up to your throat, they can affect your pharynx and your larynx, your voice box. And that’s when you have LPR, laryngopharyngeal reflux. And those symptoms are different.”
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) November 8, 2023
As the Cleveland Clinic points out, “LPR can be the underlying cause of hoarseness, laryngitis, chronic throat clearing and related symptoms. You might not have typical acid reflux symptoms, like heartburn or indigestion.”
And as Dr. Narula listed off the symptoms, Guthrie, 51, laughed asking, “Is this an intervention?” before coughing.
Her statement prompted co-anchor Hoda Kotb to say, “I think you should confess.”
“Well, first of all, I have a cold. The same cold you had; I call it the Hoda Coughing, I got the Hoda Coughing. However, I do, I just found out this week I have this very thing. So my voice has been getting hoarser and hoarser. I thought it was old age. “
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When fellow host Sheinelle Jones asked how you can find out if you've got silent reflux, Dr. Narula explained that, indeed, the condition “can fly under the radar because you may think, ‘Oh, I have asthma, I have seasonal allergies, or I have a cold.’’ So some of those symptoms might be misconstrued. So if you go to your ENT — ear, nose, and throat doctor — and they hear this hallmark or consolation of symptoms, to them, the light bulb goes off. ‘A-ha! This is probably LPR.’”
And while medication can sometimes help, Dr. Narula said that “A huge part of the treatment is diet and lifestyle changes. So they probably talked to you, Savannah—”
Guthrie jokingly cut her off, saying, “Well, we’re out of time!
The diet and lifestyle changes Dr. Narula recommended included ways to manage reflux around rich holiday meals.
“When your mother-in-law like mine calls and says, ‘Let’s have Thanksgiving dinner at 4:30,’ that might be a good idea. What you don’t want to do is eat a big meal and lay down right away. You want to give 2-3 hours. You can also elevate the head of your bed about 4-6 inches. You can avoid the triggering foods. So these are things you might eat at the holidays: Spicy foods, fried foods, citrusy foods, wine, alcohol, coffee, chocolate…”
“You just described my diet,” Guthrie said.
Choosing different types of outfits can also help, said Dr. Narula.
“We all want to wear nice, cute-looking clothing. But actually wearing baggy pants and not things that are constricting, like Spanx, is probably a good idea. Loosen up your waist band a little bit.”
“We can do that! Sweat pants,” Guthrie happily replied.
“Avoid bending over after you eat. So when my kids want to play Twister with everybody, not a good idea. And chewing gum can sometimes help," Dr. Narula added. "And avoiding smoking, keeping your weight healthy, exercising, all the other lifestyle changes.”
Silent reflex may be an inconvenience in the short term, but as Dr. Narula cautioned, it can have very serious health risks if it goes unmanaged.
“If you imagine, that delicate tissue up here is not supposed to be exposed to acid and enzymes, so it can get inflamed and damaged. So you can end up with things like vocal cord lesions, ulcers, strictures and that can potentially even progress to laryngeal cancer. You can also end up with lung issues, like aspiration, where those contents of acid go in the lungs. You can get worsening of your asthma and even chronic sinus or ear infections.“
Still, Guthrie claimed she wasn’t convinced to adjust her lifestyle. “I don’t want to do it," she later quipped to her Today show mates. "Doc says no caffeine, no alcohol, no chocolate, no fatty foods, no tomatoes, no limes in my cocktail — why am I even alive at this point!? I’ll take the hoarse voice!”
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