Got a big assignment to get in? A deadline at work? A huge family event? Or simply taken too much on? Chances are your stress levels are through the roof. But aside from that, there’s something else going on too. That old familiar feeling is back. Yep. It’s heartburn. And it always seems to rear its head whenever your stress levels rise. So why does this happen? And what is the connection between stress and acid reflux? Let’s find out. 

Acid reflux and stress FAQ

Acid reflux affects almost everyone at some time or another. However, for some, it can become debilitating and genuinely get in the way of everyday life. To help you cope with acid reflux, we’ve been answering your question, such as “what is acid reflux?”, “what causes acid reflux” and “what acid reflux symptoms should I watch out for?” and here’s what we discovered.

What is acid reflux?

Acid reflux, also known as heartburn, is a feeling of discomfort you may get in your chest and throat area from time to time. It might feel as if your throat is burning or you may even feel physically sick—the severity and intensity of symptoms vary from person to person and can range a mild discomfort to severe pain. 

Acid reflux, or heartburn, is a burning feeling you get in your chest and throat caused by acid from the stomach entering your esophagus.

This happens when the acid from your stomach, that very useful fluid that helps digest your food, passes through your stomach valve, and moves up into your esophagus (food pipe), creating that fiery feeling. Often heartburn lasts for a couple of hours, but if you get it more often or it happens more than twice a week, you should get in touch with your doctor.   

What are the acid reflux symptoms?

The most common acid reflux symptom is the feeling of burning in your throat and chest area. However, that’s not the only thing to watch out for. You may also experience other acid reflux symptoms, such as:

  • Nausea
  • Bad taste in your mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Blocked nose
  • Bloating
  • Pain in your throat area
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • General discomfort

What is heartburn? Is heartburn the same as acid reflux?

The terms heartburn and acid reflux are often used so interchangeably that we wonder: is there a difference between heart and acid reflux at all? The answer is kind of. While heartburn and acid reflux are connected, they are not quite the same thing.

Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux. It is usually one of the key signs that a person is experiencing acid reflux and may be accompanied by some of the symptoms listed above.  

Is acid reflux and GERD the same thing?

What about GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease)? Is GERD and acid reflux the same thing? No. Although once again, they are closely connected. In this case, acid reflux is a symptom of GERD. 

GERD is an illness caused by reoccurring, frequent acid reflux. If you have GERD, you may notice ongoing discomfort, difficulty eating, and swallowing even when the active acid reflux has stopped. With GERD, it’s vital to note, that if you are experiencing reflux more than twice a week, and it’s occurring consistently, you should speak to your doctor and tell them about your suspicions.

What causes acid reflux?

headache girl

Acid reflux can be caused by a variety of factors, such as:

  • Lying down after eating
  • Eating too much
  • Certain foods. The most common heartburn causes are citrus, garlic, mint, onion, chocolate, spicy foods, such as curry, fatty or fried foods
  • Too much coffee
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Smoking 
  • Certain medications, such as NSAIDs (ibuprofen, etc.), muscle relaxers, blood pressure tablets
  • Pregnancy
  • Being overweight
  • Stress

Acid reflux may also be a symptom of something else, including GERD, so if it is persistent, please consult a doctor.

Does stress really make acid reflux worse?

Often, we may experience acid reflux when we are stressed, so it might seem obvious that there is a connection, but is this really the case? It’s true! Acid reflux and stress are connected. Although, the exact reason as to why is up for discussion. In one study, 45.6% of participants noted that stress was a contributing factor in their acid reflux, meanwhile, another, comprising over 19,000 participants, noted that anxiety was a common element in patients with GERD than in the control group.

But why is this? Scientists suspect a number of factors to be at fault. Stress naturally causes muscle tension and over time as anxiety builds this can lead to pressure on the stomach. In addition, anxiety may increase its acid levels causing them to flow backward into the esophagus, which is already under stress. Combined, these give that feeling of burning and discomfort that we know so well.

How to get rid of acid reflux

Just because you have acid reflux doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it. There are a number of medical treatment options and home remedies for acid reflux that you can try. But remember, if it is a continuing issue, don’t remain silent, ask your medical professional for help. 

Watch your diet

food for immuneYou may have heard that acid reflux is deeply connected to your lifestyle and diet, and this is true. That’s why watching what you eat and when you eat it can be one of the most effective tools in combating acid reflux. Generally, when it comes to heartburn, foods can be divided into the “avoids” and the “helpers” that improve the symptoms of heartburn. Let’s break them down.

Avoids

These are the foods that may be contributing to your heartburn. Eat these with caution:

  • Spicy foods
  • Fatty foods
  • Fried foods
  • Citrus
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Chocolate
  • Chewing gum
  • Mint
  • Carbonated drinks (cola, etc.)
  • Too much coffee

Helpers

These are some of the most natural home remedies for acid reflux that may help reduce your symptoms:

  • High fiber foods—whole grains including porridge, brown rice, etc., green veggies including broccoli, green beans, and more, root vegetables including potatoes, carrots, etc.
  • High in water foods—these work to dilute stomach acid. They include watermelon, cucumber, broths, lettuce, etc.
  • Alkaline foods—the opposite of acids, these foods neutralize the acids in your stomach and help reduce heartburn. They include melon, nuts, cauliflower, banana, ginger, etc.
  • Certain dairy products—depending on you as an individual, you may find milk to be a helper or harmer in your battle against heartburn. Sometimes it helps to switch to low-fat yogurt to reduce symptoms.

Note: it’s not always what you eat that can cause heartburn. But how much you eat too. If you’re overeating you may experience acid reflux.

Seek medical help when needed

Antacids are commonly the most common medical treatment when it comes to acid reflux. These work by neutralizing your stomach acid, making those symptoms less intense. If these don’t help, your doctor may recommend foaming agents, H2 blockers, or proton pump inhibitors, that work to reduce acid production or coat the stomach and prevent the acid-causing issues.  

If you notice your heartburn is severe, it’s best to seek help to get the right treatment option for you and not self-medicate.

Include exercise in your routine

When we’re anxious our muscles tense up, and this can last even when the initial period of stress has ended. Exercise aids stress relief. It helps you to unwind and releases feel-good hormones into the body. In return, your muscles will also relax. 

If you have acid reflux, you might not feel up for doing a full-on exercise routine or even a run. That’s ok! What’s important here is to get your body moving. That can be anything from a gentle walk to cycling or even an inside dance routine to get those muscles moving and relaxing. 

Get enough sleep

sound asleepWhen we don’t sleep enough, we may experience all sorts of problems from bad skin to a low mood to an increased need to snack. Stress can both result from and be the cause of poor sleep. To help you reduce the risks of a bad night’s kip and the impending heartburn, it’s important to create a healthy sleep routine that works for you.

Try some anti-stress techniques

Reducing stress can reduce how often and how intensely you experience heartburn. There are lots of stress relief techniques you can try. The important thing here is to find one that works for you that you can do consistently to reap the benefits. Why not choose from:

  • Watching a funny movie and getting your laugh on
  • Yoga 
  • Meditation
  • Listening to music
  • Spending time with your loved ones
  • Learning to say no 
  • Prioritizing (find out some how-to secrets here)
  • Massage
  • Swimming

Acid reflux and stress: the takeaway

The level of stress and anxiety you experience and how often you experience acid reflux are connected. By reducing the stressors in your life, you can improve how often and how intensely you experience heartburn. However, putting too much pressure on yourself also isn’t good. Instead, find the balance that works for you and take care of your health as a whole. Remember to be kind to your body and consult a doctor if you are experiencing acid reflux intensely or often. 

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Written by Verv Experts
We are an integral part of the Verv team, the articles we create are the result of a collaborative effort. We are happy to share our experience and discoveries...
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