Yes, you heard it right! You must have noticed that before or during stressful situations like attending an important meeting, an office presentation, interview or meeting someone special, you tend to experience acid reflux or heartburn which is commonly referred to as acidity.
Stress or anxiety once in a while does not pose much concern, but stress over a period of time can have deleterious effects on our bodies. And stress is directly correlated to acidity, implying the more stress you take the more you experience the symptoms of acid reflux or heartburn. It’s important to know how stress is related to acidity so that you can manage them both effectively.
What is acidity?
The food we eat travels from our mouth to stomach via food pipe or oesophagus. The gastric acid produced in your stomach helps in the digestion of food.
Acidity, also known as acid reflux, occurs when the gastric juices mostly gastric acid from your stomach escape back to the food pipe. When the gastric acid produced in your stomach is present in your food pipe or oesophagus, it irritates the lining of the food pipe causing various symptoms like heartburn, nausea, etc.
Common symptoms of acidity include –
- Uneasiness or discomfort on the stomach
When you experience symptoms of acidity more than twice a week, it is called GERD or Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease.
What causes GERD?
Many factors contribute to GERD as mentioned below –
- Certain medications like painkillers, antibiotics, etc.
- Medical conditions like haital hernia
How stress leads to GERD?
Stress in itself may not cause GERD, but it can aggravate your symptoms and severity.
Stress-related behavioural changes that lead to an increase in GERD symptoms –
- Alcohol intake
- Excessive caffeine intake in the form of coffee and tea
- Dietary changes like eating oily and spicy foods at irregular timings
- Less physical activity
- Inadequate sleep
Studies show that whenever we are stressed or anxious, we tend to experience more severe symptoms as we become more sensitive to gastric acids. It has to be noted that under stressful or anxious situations, one does not produce more gastric acid but becomes sensitive to even small amounts of gastric acids resulting in symptoms.
No, it’s not just in your head or just your feeling
Research says that when a person is stressed, a lot of chemical changes happen in the brain, which in turn act on the pain receptors thus making the person more sensitive to pain. In GERD, when under stress a person becomes more sensitive to even a slight increase in gastric acid.
Stress also depletes a chemical called prostaglandin that helps in protecting your stomach from the ill effects of gastric acid, as a result, you will feel extreme discomfort from gastric acid.
Stress also alters the way the food pipe or oesophagus works. The muscles of the oesophagus and the sphincter of the oesophagus that prevents the backward flow of stomach acids is reduced thus resulting in symptoms of GERD.
Management of GERD
Even before treating GERD, it is very important to get a proper diagnosis of GERD by your doctor. Management of GERD involves both lifestyle modifications that include stress coping mechanisms and medical treatment with medicines.
Medical management of GERD
GERD symptoms reduce the quality of life, so it is always better to seek medical treatment. Your doctor upon assessing your condition will prescribe any or a combination of medicines to treat GERD.
- Over the counter antacids provide quick relief and work by neutralising stomach acids.
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) like omeprazole, esomeprazole and rabeprazole are stronger than H2 blockers in reducing acid production. PPIs also aid in healing the oesophagal lining.
Manage your stress
It is important to note that stress not only affects your GERD symptoms but it also affects your overall health as it can cause various diseases of heart, irritable bowel syndrome and increases the risk of stroke. Studies have shown that even under medication for GERD, half of the people still find that stress increases their GERD symptoms. After knowing the science behind stress and its ill effects on your stomach, it is always better to manage your stress to control your GERD symptoms.
Coping strategies to manage stress:
1. Incorporate Exercise to your routine
Exercise releases a natural feel-good hormone that in turn makes you feel relaxed and most importantly helps you forget your stressors to some extent.
2. Stay away from trigger foods
For a few people, chocolate may trigger acidity and for others coffee or spicy and oily food. Know your trigger foods that trigger your acidity symptoms and avoid consuming them.
3. Get enough sleep
Stress and sleep are interrelated, if you don’t get enough sleep, stress hormones get released thus resulting in stress the next day. So, getting enough sleep must be your first priority as inadequate sleep also aggravates your symptoms.
4. Relaxation techniques
Try relaxation techniques like yoga, tai chi and meditation.
Even though scientists are still working on the relationship between stress and acidity, it is important to identify and manage both. As both GERD and stress can negatively impact your quality of life along with deleterious effects on your body. You can successfully manage your stress with stress coping strategies but you should visit your doctor for the diagnosis and treatment of GERD.
It is important to note that some symptoms of stress and GERD coincide with chest pain, which is also a major symptom of a heart attack. It is always important to seek the help of a doctor when in doubt rather than self-diagnosing and self-treatment.
Disclaimer: The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.