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GERD stands for “Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease.” This medical condition is commonly called acid reflux. If a person has GERD, the contents of their stomach (including acidic stomach juices) can reflux back into their esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that carries food and liquids down from the throat to the stomach. When a person suffers from GERD, they commonly experience heartburn or acid indigestion.
If a person who has GERD is arrested for DUI, they may have to have a breathalyzer test to determine their blood alcohol content (BAC). If the person has an episode of GERD before the breath test, alcohol gases or vapors coming up from their stomach can be mistakenly read by the machine as deep lung air. This can cause the breathalyzer machine to give a falsely high BAC result. Usually, the law requires a person giving someone a breath test to wait and observe the person for 15 minutes to make sure that the person does not vomit, belch, or have the hiccups because this could cause alcohol from the person’s stomach to be read by the breathalyzer machine.
There are many things that can bring on an episode of GERD, including smoking, eating spicy foods, and drinking alcohol. Most DUI defendants who suffer from GERD will have to present evidence from a physician to show that they suffer from the condition so that a court can determine whether GERD played a role in a high breath-alcohol test result.
GERD and DUI Frequently Asked Questions
1. If I have GERD and vomited right before a breathalyzer test, could this cause my BAC to be falsely high?
Yes. Any type of regurgitation can cause the breathalyzer machine to read alcohol from the stomach and this can cause a falsely high BAC reading. If a DUI suspect vomits before a breathalyzer test, the person giving the test is usually required to give the suspect a glass of water and wait 15 minutes before giving them another breathalyzer test.
2. If I have GERD and had a large meal and several glasses of wine before driving, could this cause a false breathalyzer result?
Yes. A large meal and alcohol can trigger a person’s acid reflux disease. If the person finishes drinking alcohol shortly before driving, there may be unabsorbed alcohol in their stomach that could be pushed into their mouth by the reflux and this could cause a falsely high reading on a breathalyzer test.
3. What should I do if the police officer in my case failed to find out about my GERD and I got a high BAC result from a breathalyzer machine?
In many cases, police officers may fail to observe a DUI suspect before a breathalyzer test because they are doing paperwork or other police duties. If this happened in your case and you think acid reflux caused your BAC reading to be falsely high, you should consult with a DUI attorney because the results of your breathalyzer test may not be admissible later in court.
4. How can drinking alcohol cause GERD symptoms before a breathalyzer test?
If a person with GERD drinks alcohol before driving, this can cause the alcohol to be forced back up into their throat and mouth during an attack of acid reflux. In some cases, this GERD attack can cause the person to have a strong odor of alcohol even though they may not have drank enough to be over the legal limit of 0.08% in California. If a person suffered a GERD episode during their arrest for DUI, they should tell their DUI attorney because they may be able to present a defense based on medical evidence and other evidence about the person’s sobriety at the time they were arrested.
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