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Hiatal Hernia, Heartburn, Acid Reflux, or GERD as a DUI Defense in Nevada

How Does Heartburn, Acid Reflux, a Hiatal Hernia, or GERD Trick a DUI Breath Test?

Numerous medical conditions can cause inaccurate outcomes on a Nevada DUI breath test. Some of these conditions are related to the digestive system, which can lead to stomach contents flowing back into the esophagus. The esophagus connects the stomach with the throat. It is sometimes also known as the “food pipe.” Common conditions that can cause this include:

  • Hiatal Hernia
  • Heartburn
  • Acid Reflux
  • GERD

What Role Does “Mouth Alcohol” Play in DUI Breath Tests?

Alcohol tends to linger in the mouth’s mucosal lining briefly after consumption, commonly referred to as “mouth alcohol.” In Nevada, DUI breath tests are designed to gauge the alcohol concentration in deep lung air. Unfortunately, when mouth alcohol mixes with deep lung air, it produces a falsely elevated blood alcohol concentration (“BAC”) reading.

Typically, mouth alcohol dissipates quickly, so Nevada law mandates that a law enforcement technician monitors you for 15 minutes straight before administering an evidentiary breath test. This ensures enough time for mouth alcohol to dissipate and prevents you from introducing new alcohol into your mouth.

A correctly conducted test using calibrated breath-measuring equipment is accurate for most people. However, individuals with medical conditions that allow stomach contents to flow back into their mouths, such as GERD, may create a potential source of mouth alcohol that cannot be easily detected by the test observer. As a result, falsely high DUI breath test results may occur.

If required, a proficient defense lawyer with expertise handling DUI cases can demonstrate to the prosecutor and the jury that your medical condition, not excessive drinking, caused the high BAC reading on a breath test. This can only be achieved by a thorough knowledge of the scientific aspects involved in the case.

1.  How Can Hiatal Hernia, Heartburn, Acid Reflux, or GERD Lead to False BAC Readings?

The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) opens during digestion to let food pass into the stomach. After swallowing, the LES halts stomach contents from flowing back up by closing.

However, individuals with medical conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) have a weak lower esophageal sphincter. This can cause stomach acid and contents to flow back into the esophagus, particularly after a large meal. Sometimes, these stomach contents can even be regurgitated up and into the mouth.

If you have consumed a large meal and have GERD before using the Intoxilzyer 8000, it can lead to inaccurately high readings. This happens when the deep lung air mixes with the acids in your stomach during the breath test. This is why it is important for the officer to utilize the required 15-minute observation period to monitor for burps, regurgitation, or anything else that could affect the test accuracy. The Intoxilzyer 8000 is the DUI breath testing device currently utilized by Nevada police officers.

However, even the most vigilant technician cannot detect instances where you regurgitate or vomit into your mouth. This poses a significant risk for individuals with digestive disorders like GERD, which may lead to inaccurate BAC readings.

2.  Hiatal Hernia Explained- How Does it Affect Your DUI Test

The esophagus is a tube that passes through a hole in the diaphragm, an organ that helps you breathe. It links to the stomach. Nevertheless, individuals with a hiatal hernia experience a partial stomach protrusion above the diaphragm, leading to reflux and symptoms similar to GERD. The symptoms may include regurgitating undigested food or other stomach contents into the mouth.

3.  What is the Amount of Mouth Alcohol That “Fools” a DUI Breath Test?

A DUI breath test does not measure the alcohol in your blood directly, unlike a DUI blood test. Instead, it measures the alcohol content in a “deep lung” air sample and converts it mathematically to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

Prosecutors argue that new DUI breath testing devices can differentiate between mouth alcohol and deep lung air. However, studies have revealed this is not always the case, particularly for those with digestive disorders, which may lead to regurgitating stomach contents during the minute-minute observation period.

4.  How to Tell if Hiatal Hernia or Acid Reflux Affected Your Breathalyzer Test?

Your lawyer will conduct a thorough interview with you to determine if a medical condition could have caused a false positive on your DUI breath test. It would be helpful to inform your attorney of any medical conditions you may have, even if it does not seem relevant, or if you were experiencing any stomach issues during your DUI arrest.

With the aid of a DUI expert witness or your doctor, your lawyer will explain the science behind DUI testing to the prosecutor and possibly the jury. They will demonstrate to the trier of fact how your medical condition may have been responsible for the falsely high reading on your DUI breath test.

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