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How Acid Reflux Affects the Breathalyzer Test

This Guest Post is courtesy of The Law Office of Cristine Beckwith in Tacoma, WA.

If you are suffering from Gastroesophogal Reflux Disease (GERD), acid reflux or heartburn, the condition may cause a false high reading in breath analysis for blood alcohol content (the BAC test).  While a blood test directly measures blood alcohol concentration, the BAC measures the amount of alcohol in the subject’s breath.  This is generally done using infrared technology.  A lamp within the BAC machine emits light to the sample (breath) and the reflected light is measured.  The light loses some energy in the sample of breath, and this energy that is not absorbed is treated as a “fingerprint” of the sample.  This “fingerprint” is analyzed by comparing it to known samples.  Upon completion of the test, the machine will generate a print out determining the level of alcohol in the subject’s breath.

The amount of alcohol in the deep lung air is thought to correlate to the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream.  The Blood Breath Partition Ratio assumes that 2100mL of breath contains the same amount of alcohol as 1 mL of blood.  In analyzing a subject’s breath sample, the BAC machine is making the assumption that the alcohol in the breath sample came from deep lung air.  However, alcohol may have come from the mouth, throat or stomach for a number of reasons.  Because the BAC machine uses a computer model to determine when the sample blown into the machine is from the deep lung, the system creates problems when so-called “mouth alcohol” contained in the breath samples mimics the image that the machine’s internal computer believes is a deep lung sample.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which the stomach contents (food or liquid) leak backwards from the stomach into the esophagus.  This condition can create “mouth alcohol” which exists at a higher concentration than alcohol in the deep lung tissue.  An individual with GERD may have a constant leaking through the esophagus, which means the mouth alcohol cannot dissipate.  This mouth alcohol will interfere with the breath test results, causing a false high reading.

If a person accused of DUI suffers from GERD, it may not be possible for the prosecutor to prove that the breath results were over the legal limit, given that the condition would cause the breath results to be elevated.  If you have been arrested for DUI and believe that your results have been compromised, it is important to contact an attorney right away to ensure that your rights are protected.

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Guest Post written by Cristine Beckwith 

The Law Office of Cristine Beckwith defends clients accused of DUI and other matters related to criminal defense in Washington State. Cristine is rated Superior by Avvo.com. 

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