The Heartburn Defense


Having Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), acid reflux disease, and even a temporary bout of heartburn could cause a false reading in a breathalyzer.

If you suffer from one of these conditions, chances are you’ve experienced acidic belching, regurgitation, or mild vomiting. When this occurs, stomach acids that contain alcohol travel up the esophagus and into the mouth.

Breathalyzers are intended to measure alcohol from air located at the base of your lungs when you exhale into them. This air comes from the alveolar sacs located at the base of the lungs and is called “alveolar air.” The breathalyzer then, using an internal mathematical equation, converts the alcohol in the alveolar air into your blood alcohol content (BAC). The calculation, however, is only accurate when the alcohol from the base of the lungs is measured. When someone experiences acid reflux prior to giving a breath test, the breathalyzer may pick up alcohol located at the base of the lungs as well as alcohol located in the mouth as a result of the acid reflux. The result is a contaminated, flawed, and elevated BAC reading.

Given the pervasiveness of GERD and acid reflux disease, or even the temporary heartburn from that cheeseburger at dinner, it is important to know that it is not all that improbable for these all too common afflictions to affect a breathalyzer reading. Obviously, this could have devastating consequences when someone is coming home from their favorite burger joint and is pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. Thus, it is important that your attorney is made aware of such medical conditions or that tough-to-digest cheeseburger for consideration of defending a driving under the influence charge based on the “heartburn defense.”

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