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Fighting the Burn: Can Stress Cause Heartburn?

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

Did you know that your stomach acid is almost as strong as battery acid? It makes sense that your stomach may cause heartburn once in a while. But if heartburn is a consistent problem for you, it may be due to stress.

But can stress cause heartburn? How can you tell that your acid reflux isn't being caused by something else? What should you do if stress is at the root of this problem?

Stress and the Digestive System

Many people don't realize how harmful stress can be to human health. Getting stressed occasionally is normal, but being stressed all the time is not. Constant stress weakens the body in a variety of ways.

It alters the digestive system, weakens the immune system, and so on. Stress-induced heartburn is a very real problem. The problem is that many people don't realize stress is the cause.

They may think something else is causing their heartburn. It is important to rule out everything that might be irritating your stomach. Start by removing spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine from your diet.

These foods are known to be harsh on the stomach and may leave your stomach acid levels unbalanced. But what should you do if you still have heartburn after cutting out these foods?

Determine if you develop heartburn after eating a particular type of food like dairy. You may be unable to eat that type of food. Consider if you are taking any medications that may irritate your stomach as well.

If you have done all of this and still have acid reflux, stress may be the cause. Think about how you feel daily. Do you feel tense?

Do you often worry about things in your life? Do you feel that you worry for no reason? These are all signs that you are stressed.

The Details

You may be stressed about your job, your family, or your responsibilities.

You may also have a stress disorder such as PTSD if you have gone through a traumatic event in the past. You may also have another type of anxiety disorder such as generalized anxiety or social anxiety.

Any type of stress and anxiety can take a toll on the body. But this does not mean that the problem is all in your head. While the problem may indeed start in your head, it affects the rest of your body.

You may also experience other issues besides heartburn. It may be hard for you to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. You may not have a healthy appetite and you may feel tired all the time.

It may be difficult to concentrate and you may feel that your mind is "foggy." You may also feel that it is difficult to relax at any given moment. It is important to acknowledge your stress.

If your stress is causing acid reflux, it is important to get treatment right away. Leaving acid reflux untreated can cause serious health problems. Your stomach acid is powerful enough to burn your esophagus.

This can make it hard to speak and swallow. In severe cases, acid reflux can cause permanent damage and scarring to your throat. This may also lead to throat cancer.

you can prevent these problems if you get to the root of the problem and treat it.

How Stress Affects the Stomach and Digestion

Can stress cause acid reflux? Absolutely. Stress does this by changing the way the stomach functions.

This is possible due to how stress affects the nervous system. There are two main branches of the nervous system: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The parasympathetic system is the "rest and digest" part of the nervous system.

It allows us to relax, digest our food, sleep, and have bowel movements. The sympathetic nervous system is the "fight or flight" branch. This system produces adrenaline, shuts down the digestive system, and prepares you to defend yourself against a threat.

The problem with stress is that it triggers the sympathetic nervous system too much. Stress makes the mind and body think there is a threat when there isn't. This ruins your digestion, sleep patterns, and more.

Stress first affects the muscles of the stomach wall. A healthy stomach contracts its muscles to churn the food and acid inside. This helps break up the food into smaller pieces so it can then be pushed into the intestines.

But stress forces these stomach muscles to become less active. This means that the food inside your stomach won't get churned or broken down as much. This makes it more difficult for food and excess acid to go into your intestines.

This can cause other problems such as bloating, gas, and cramping. It may also cause constipation or diarrhea. Stress also forces the stomach to produce less stomach acid.

What You Need to Know

The less acid your stomach has, the harder it is for the stomach to digest food. There are also pyloric glands in the stomach that make mucous as a protective lining for the inside of the stomach. This ensures that the stomach doesn't digest or damage itself.

But stress weakens these pyloric glands and reduces their output of protective mucous. This leaves the stomach in a weakened state where its stomach acid will start to damage itself. This causes a painful feeling around the stomach and it may cause an ulcer.

An ulcer is an open sore that can develop at any spot inside the stomach. It starts as a minor irritation but gets much worse without treatment. Some ulcers may eat through the entire muscular wall of the stomach.

This may cause internal bleeding and infection. These changes may also cause the acid in your stomach to splash up into your esophagus. This is known as acid reflux.

The esophagus has a narrow point called a sphincter. This sphincter is meant to keep food and acid down in the stomach so it doesn't get regurgitated into the mouth. But being constantly bombarded by stomach acid can weaken this sphincter.

This makes it easier for acid to crawl up into your esophagus where it can wreak havoc.

Understanding the cause of your stress will make it easier to treat the problem. Reducing or eliminating the cause of your stress should help you relax.

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