Can Stress Cause Acid Reflux?

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What Is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux (GER), is a digestive disorder that occurs when stomach acid or bile flows back up into the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that connects the throat to the stomach. Usually, a ring of muscles called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) prevents the stomach contents from flowing upward into the esophagus. However, who have acid reflux, the LES may weaken or relax, allowing stomach acid to escape.

What Are The Symptoms Of Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux, a common digestive disorder, manifests through various uncomfortable symptoms[1]. Individuals experiencing acid reflux may encounter heartburn, a burning sensation in the chest with a sour or bitter taste in the mouth. They may also endure regurgitation, with stomach contents, including acid or food, rising into the throat. Recognize the following signs and seek appropriate care for acid reflux management.

  • Heartburn: A burning sensation in the chest or throat, often accompanied by a sour or bitter taste in the mouth.
  • Regurgitation: The feeling of stomach contents, including acid or food, rising into the throat or mouth.
  • Dyspepsia: General discomfort or pain in the upper abdomen.
  • Difficulty Swallowing: A sensation of food getting stuck or a narrowing sensation in the throat.
  • Chronic Cough: A persistent, dry cough unrelated to a respiratory infection.
  • Hoarseness or Sore Throat: Irritation or inflammation of the vocal cords due to acid exposure.
  • Asthma Symptoms: Acid reflux can trigger or worsen asthma symptoms in individuals with pre-existing asthma.

What Are The Causes Of Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux, characterized by the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus, can be attributed to various underlying causes. Weakened or relaxed lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscles, which usually prevent the upward flow of stomach contents, contribute to acid reflux. Understanding the following causes[1] of acid reflux is crucial to manage and control symptoms.

  • Weakness of the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES): This can be due to certain lifestyle factors, such as obesity, smoking, or consuming large meals.
  • Hiatal Hernia: A condition in which part of the stomach protrudes into the chest through the diaphragm, allowing acid to move more easily into the esophagus.
  • Pregnancy: Hormonal changes and increased pressure on the abdomen during pregnancy can contribute to acid reflux.
  • Certain Foods and Drinks: Spicy or fatty foods, citrus fruits, tomatoes, chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol can trigger or worsen symptoms.
  • Medications: Some medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), certain antibiotics, and calcium channel blockers, can relax the LES or irritate the esophagus.

Can Stress Cause Acid Reflux?

Stress can contribute to the development or worsening[2] of acid reflux symptoms. While stress may not directly cause acid reflux, it can trigger its symptoms. When someone gets stressed, their body undergoes various physiological changes, including increased heart rate, altered digestive function, and the release of stress hormones like cortisol. These stress-related changes can affect the digestive system and potentially lead to acid reflux.

Furthermore, stress may indirectly worsen acid reflux symptoms by influencing lifestyle factors. For example, people under stress may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as overeating, consuming trigger foods, smoking, or drinking alcohol, all of which can contribute to acid reflux.

It is crucial to manage stress effectively to minimize its impact on acid reflux symptoms[3]. Stress reduction techniques, such as exercise, relaxation exercises, mindfulness, and seeking support from friends, family, or professionals - can help alleviate stress and potentially improve acid refl

How Can Stress Affect the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES)?

Stress can affect[3] the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) in several ways, potentially contributing to acid reflux. The LES is a ring of muscles located at the junction of the esophagus and the stomach, and its primary function is to act as a valve that prevents stomach contents, including stomach acid, from flowing back up into the esophagus. Here's how stress can impact the LES:

1. Increased LES Relaxation: Stress triggers the body's "fight-or-flight" response, which involves the release of stress hormones like cortisol. These hormones can lead to the relaxation of smooth muscles, including those in the LES. When the LES relaxes more than it should, it becomes less effective at maintaining the barrier between the stomach and the esophagus, allowing stomach acid to reflux into the esophagus.

2. Altered Nerve Signaling: Stress can influence the nerves that control the function of the digestive system, including the LES. These altered nerve signals can affect the coordination and strength of the LES, leading to improper functioning and an increased risk of acid reflux.

3. Delayed Gastric Emptying: When stressed, the body may direct blood flow away from the digestive system to support the "fight-or-flight" response. It can result in delayed gastric emptying, where the stomach takes longer to empty its contents. When the stomach is overly full, it increases the pressure on the LES, making it easier for stomach contents to reflux into the esophagus.

4. Increased Stomach Acid Production: Stress can stimulate the release of certain chemicals that increase stomach acid production. Excess stomach acid can overwhelm the LES, making it more likely for acid to reflux into the esophagus.

These effects of stress on the lower esophageal sphincter can create an environment conducive to acid reflux and worsen symptoms for individuals who already have the condition.

How Can Stress Increase Stomach Acid Production?

Stress can increase stomach acid production[1] through the body's stress response activation, commonly known as the "fight-or-flight" response. When an individual experiences stress, their body releases stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones initiate a cascade of physiological changes to prepare the body for perceived threats or challenges. One of these changes involves the stimulation of gastric acid secretion in the stomach.

Here's how stress can lead to increased stomach acid production:

  • Stimulation of the vagus nerve
  • Release of gastrin
  • Impact on prostaglandins
  • Delayed gastric emptying

These factors can result in elevated stomach acid levels, increasing the risk of acid reflux and other digestive issues. Managing stress through relaxation techniques, mindfulness, exercise, and seeking support can help mitigate the impact of stress on stomach acid production and promote overall digestive health.

How Can Stress Make Acid Reflux Symptoms Worse?

Stress can worsen acid reflux symptoms by influencing[2] various physiological and behavioral factors that contribute to the development or exacerbation of acid reflux.

Here are some ways stress can negatively impact acid reflux:

  • Increased stomach acid production
  • Weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES)
  • Delayed gastric emptying
  • Altered gut motility
  • Unhealthy coping mechanisms
  • Hypersensitivity to pain

Managing stress through relaxation techniques, mindfulness, regular exercise, and seeking support can be beneficial in reducing the impact of stress on acid reflux symptoms and promoting overall gastrointestinal health.

To Manage Stress To Reduce Acid Reflux Symptoms?

Managing stress effectively can help reduce acid reflux symptoms[3]. Here are some strategies to help you manage stress and improve your acid reflux symptoms:

  • Engage in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or yoga. These practices can help calm the mind and body, reducing stress and promoting overall well-being.
  • Physical activity is a natural stress reliever. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.
  • Ensure you get enough restful sleep each night. Poor sleep can increase stress levels and may worsen acid reflux symptoms.
  • Organize your daily activities to reduce unnecessary stress and prevent feelings of overwhelm. Prioritize tasks and break them into manageable chunks.
  • Adopt a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Avoid trigger foods and limit your intake of caffeine, alcohol, and spicy or fatty foods, as they can aggravate acid reflux.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day, as dehydration can exacerbate stress and digestive issues.
  • Talk to friends, family, or a mental health professional about your stressors. Sharing your feelings and concerns can help you gain perspective and reduce emotional burdens.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol as they can contribute to stress and trigger acid reflux symptoms.

Remember that everyone's stress management strategies can differ, so find what works best for you. Reducing stress can positively impact your acid reflux symptoms and overall well-being. If you continue to experience severe acid reflux symptoms, it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and personalized treatment recommendations.

FAQs about Stress and Acid Reflux Connection

Stress can physically impact your body in more ways than one. Acid reflux happens to be one of the negative impacts of anxiety, and it can become a hindrance to your day-to-day functioning. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about stress and acid reflux that will help you understand its impact.

Q1. Are there specific stress-related behaviors that can trigger acid reflux?

If you are living with anxiety or stress, it can lead to acid reflux with other lifestyle choices. Therefore, engaging in stressful activities can increase the chances of acid reflux. So, make healthier choices to reduce stress levels and minimize acid reflux problems.

Q2. Can stress management techniques help alleviate acid reflux symptoms?

Yes, stress management techniques like meditation, yoga, or talking to a counselor can alleviate your stress, thus positively impacting your overall health, including your acid reflux issue.

Q3. How can I differentiate between acid reflux caused by stress and other underlying factors?

If you deal with stress and anxiety regularly, differentiating between stress-induced acid reflux and other underlying factors can become difficult. Therefore, you must consult your doctor or healthcare provider to understand your issue and get the appropriate treatment.

Q4. Can chronic stress lead to long-term complications of acid reflux?

Chronic stress can negatively impact your overall health, including acid reflux problems. If it will affect you long-term or not, only an expert healthcare professional can guide you in the right direction. Therefore, seek support from your doctor to deal with the issue.

Q5. Should I seek medical attention if I suspect my acid reflux is stress-related?

Yes, seek medical help if you suspect acid reflux has become a chronic issue. Stress-related or not, getting the appropriate treatment at the right time will help you minimize your acid reflux issue and eradicate it.


In conclusion, while stress may not directly cause acid reflux, substantial evidence supports its role in exacerbating the condition and triggering its symptoms. Stress can influence various physiological factors, all of which can contribute to acid reflux. Moreover, stress-induced behaviors such as unhealthy eating habits and coping mechanisms may worsen acid reflux symptoms. Therefore, managing stress through relaxation techniques, regular exercise, proper sleep, healthy eating, and seeking support can be instrumental in reducing the impact of stress on acid reflux, promoting better gastrointestinal health, and enhancing overall well-being.

Looking For Relief from Gastrointestinal Problems?

Gastrointestinal problems like acid reflux can make daily life unmanageable and distressing. Therefore, seeking help for such medical issues can help you manage your life better and promote overall health. The Gastroenterology Department at DPU Private Super Specialty Hospital assists you in dealing with all such problems and in expert care with its state-of-the-art infrastructure and medical expertise.