The Role of Stress in Triggering Acid Reflux

You take all the necessary steps to prevent acid reflux. You avoid drinking and eating spicy food. Between supper and night, you give yourself plenty of time. You even stop smoking. You eat modest meals. Congratulations! You're controlling your condition really well. 

Heartburn sufferers typically avoid spicy foods like chilli and drinking Orange juice for breakfast. However, they might not be as aware of how making a presentation or meeting the parents for the first time might affect their symptoms. These are both extremely stressful situations. They might not be aware of the link between stress and acid reflux.

Flare-ups can still happen, though, because of external factors. Events that are stressful, such as a significant move or a big presentation at work, can aggravate your acid reflux symptoms. 

According to research, individuals who are under stress are more prone to develop persistent GERD or more severe acid reflux symptoms. Some research and surveys suggest that there is a role of stress in triggering acid reflux. But even in the most stressful circumstances, you can control your stomach by using some useful coping mechanisms.

Now that you’re aware of the link between stress and acid reflux, let’s try to understand it in detail. This will help you in trying to control both your stress and your acid reflux.

Acid Reflux

Hydrochloric acid, a potent acid found in the stomach, aids in the breakdown of food and serves as a defence against pathogens like bacteria. While the esophagus is not covered, the stomach's lining has been carefully modified to shield it from the stomach's powerful acid. 

The gastroesophageal sphincter, a muscular ring, often serves as a valve to keep food from coming back up into the esophagus while allowing it to enter the stomach. When this valve malfunctions, stomach acid flows backwards into the esophagus. It's acid reflux. As the acid builds, a person will experience a burning feeling in their esophagus. This is called heartburn.

Connection Between Stress and Acid Reflux

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A person's response to sickness may depend on their lifestyle. A 2009 study that examined health surveys from more than 40,000 Norwegians discovered that those who reported experiencing stress at work were considerably more likely to experience GERD symptoms. 

When compared to individuals who claimed high job satisfaction, those who reported low job satisfaction were twice as likely to develop GERD. In a more recent study published in Internal Medicine, 12,653 persons with GERD were interviewed, and it was discovered that over half said there was a major role of stress in triggering acid reflux and that it was the main cause of their symptoms getting worse despite taking medication.

Although stress and acid reflux are associated, which condition actually causes the other? The pain and suffering of acid reflux can be very upsetting, but many people with the condition acknowledge that they frequently feel anxious and agitated. An intricate cycle of physical and mental distress can occur from stomach trouble, regurgitation, chest pain, coughing, and throat burning, which can also cause a lack of appetite, irritability, and insomnia. 

It's not surprising that scientists are still researching the intricate link between stress and acid reflux.

Does Stress Worsen Acid Reflux?

Now that you understand the role of stress in triggering acid reflux, let's discuss whether stress actually makes the flare-ups worse. It's still unclear if stress actually causes a physical rise in stomach acid or just causes it to become worse. According to current scientific thinking, stress makes people more vulnerable to even tiny levels of esophageal acid.

Researchers found that persons with acid reflux who were nervous or stressed reported experiencing greater uncomfortable sensations related to the condition, but no one demonstrated an increase in gastric acid in 1993, according to a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology. In other words, even though patients repeatedly reported experiencing increased discomfort, the researchers were unable to detect any rise in the overall amount of acid produced.

Further evidence for this theory came from a 2008 study. Stressful sounds made GERD sufferers more susceptible to acid exposure, which led to an increase in symptoms, the researchers discovered. So, it can be concluded that stress doesn’t physically worsen the symptoms of acid reflux. But does this mean that it is all in your mind? Not really.

According to research, stress may alter the brain in a way that activates pain receptors, making you physiologically more sensitive to even tiny increases in acidity. The synthesis of chemicals known as prostaglandins, which typically shield the stomach from the effects of acid, can be reduced by stress. This might make you feel more uncomfortable.

When stress and weariness are combined, the body may experience even more changes that worsen acid reflux. Whatever precisely occurs in the brain and body, many who experience acid reflux symptoms are aware that stress can make them feel uneasy, and addressing lifestyle variables is crucial. So, you have to learn how to manage stress to prevent acid reflux flares.

How to Avoid Stress and Acid Reflux Flare-Ups?

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Utilizing stress management techniques can lower your risk of developing illnesses like heart disease, stroke, obesity, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and depression. You'll feel better the better you handle stress. Here’s how you can manage the role of stress in triggering acid reflux.

  • You can exercise as it will help loosen muscles and release feel-good hormones.
  • Avoid food items that have a higher probability of triggering stress and acid reflux.
  • Get some extra sleep in. Sleep naturally reduces stress, and if you’re less stressed, you can sleep better. So, get some extra sleep to avoid acid reflux flare-ups.
  • Try out relaxing activities like yoga, guided imagery, calming music, or tai chi.
  • Prioritize yourself over other people and their needs. Once you start taking time for yourself, you’ll notice your stress levels lowering.

The Bottom Line

It doesn’t matter if stress causes reflux flare-ups or if your reflux flare-ups cause you stress. You can avoid both stress and acid reflux by making some lifestyle changes and healthy choices.
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