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What is the Connection Between Acid Reflux and Stress?

By Henry Gaudet
Updated May 17, 2024
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Most people believe that there is a link between acid reflux and stress. Many sufferers of acid reflux report more acute symptoms during times of stress. Studies have not shown a direct relationship between acid reflux and stress, but stress might be indirectly responsible for bouts of acid reflux.

Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a condition when stomach acid rises up into the lower portion of the esophagus. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is responsible for keeping acid from flowing into the esophagus, but in cases of acid reflux, the LES relaxes. Unlike the stomach lining, the esophagus is unable to withstand the stomach acid, causing irritation and a burning sensation.

Stress has not been found to cause the LES to relax and trigger a bout of acid reflux. Despite this, people frequently report an increase in incidents of acid reflux during periods of stress, and there does appear to be a relationship between acid reflux and stress. This has led many researchers to conclude that acid reflux and stress are linked by some of the other documented effects of stress.

For instance, during periods of stress, the body prioritizes functions essential for fight-or-flight and puts other processes on hold until the stress has passed. Muscles, heart and lungs are given extra food and oxygen so that they can work harder. This fuel is directed away from less essential functions, including digestion. When the digestive process is slowed, food remains in the stomach longer, and more pressure is placed on the LES. Hyperacidity also can result from slower digestion, and this condition can contribute to acid reflux.

Behavior is another link between acid reflux and stress. In times of stress, people are more likely to overeat or to seek out comfort food. Stressed people are more likely to smoke more or to consume more alcohol. Overindulgence places additional stress on the LES, making acid reflux more likely.

Although acid reflux and stress do not seem to be linked directly, reducing stress often is an effective way of reducing the frequency and severity of acid reflux attacks. Researchers agree that managing stress provides a host of benefits, including improved digestion. Relaxation techniques such as massage, meditation or simple quiet time can help reduce stress levels. Exercise is an especially useful method for managing stress, because it has the added benefit of reducing weight, which also will help to reduce the symptoms of acid reflux.

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Discussion Comments
By andee — On Sep 15, 2011

I take Prilosec for my acid reflux symptoms and usually this does a good job of keeping my symptoms under control.

When I first began experiencing heartburn symptoms I thought I might be having a heart attack. I was relieved when my doctor told me it was just acid reflux.

I think the biggest reason I have more symptoms when I am stressed is because of the type of foods I eat. One way I relieve stress if by eating, and these are usually foods that aren't very healthy for me.

When I am under stress I will also eat late at night and this always makes my acid reflux worse.

By myharley — On Sep 15, 2011

I find this article very interesting as I have suffered from acid reflux for a number of years. I usually take an over the counter medicine for this to keep it under control.

What I find most interesting is that there are many times when my acid reflux seems worse when I am stressed. This is when I seem to notice an increase in my acid reflux and chest pain.

I am glad to know that this is common as it has happened to me many times. If it wasn't so familiar to me, I would be concerned that something else was going on.

Anytime I am in a stressful situation I am never surprised when my acid reflux symptoms worsen.

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