GERD Awareness: The Link Between Your Heartburn & Anxiety

By Sarah Hannan

GERD Awareness: The Link Between Your Heartburn & Anxiety

November 19th, 2021 at 5:11 am

Many of us have started preparing for the festive season, marking our calendars for the upcoming dinners filled with holiday foods and drinks. It’s the season of overindulgence, so we’re raising awareness about a commonly occurring reflux disease known as GERD, which tends to present symptoms when under stress.


In 1999 the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) added the GERD Awareness week to the US national health observances calendar. Since then, every year during Thanksgiving week, the IFFGD raises awareness about chronic gastrointestinal disorders like GERD to help educate the public and support those who are suffering from such conditions.


What is GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a common disorder. The IFFGD notes that 1 in 5 people suffer from GERD in the United States, with each year closer to 5 million Americans admitted to the hospital due to chest pains caused by GERD.


Commonly referred to as acid reflux disease, GERD occurs when acidic or non-acidic stomach contents back-flows into the oesophagus accompanied by heartburn and regurgitation of acid symptoms. At times one might only find out that they are suffering from GERD when complications become evident.


Symptoms result from constant exposure of the oesophagus lining to acidic or non-acidic contents from the stomach, which leads to GERD with tissue damage known as oesophagitis or erosive GERD, and GERD without tissue damage causes non-erosive GERD.


There is no known single cause of the disease. However, medical professionals know that the reflux aspect happens when the muscle barrier between the oesophagus and the stomach malfunctions or is otherwise overwhelmed. Although chronic heartburn is the most common symptom, there are several other less common symptoms associated with GERD:

  • Belching
  • Difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • Sudden excess of saliva
  • A sensation of food sticking in the oesophagus
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Laryngitis
  • Inflammation of the gums
  • Erosion of the enamel of the teeth
  • Chronic irritation in the throat
  • Hoarseness in the morning
  • A sour taste
  • Bad breath


The link between GERD and anxiety

study conducted in 2015 revealed that anxiety and depression might play a role in the occurrence of GERD and especially that of non-erosive GERD. Having severe GERD symptoms can be a stressful experience and may thereby increase anxiety.


If someone has GERD and anxiety, they will have to look at a treatment plan to treat symptoms for both of these conditions. Common medications used to treat anxiety could worsen GERD symptoms.


How stress makes GERD worse

Researchers have proposed that psychological conditions, including anxiety, might have physiological effects that lead to GERD, suggesting that there are several possible physical reasons for this:

  • Anxiety may reduce pressure in the lower oesophageal sphincter, which is the band of muscle that keeps the stomach closed and prevents acid from leaking into the oesophagus.
  • Stress responses and anxiety may cause long-lasting muscle tension around the stomach, causing an increase in pressure and pushing the acid up.
  • High anxiety levels may increase stomach acid production.


Despite all these studies, there is still no proof that people that undergo stress produce more stomach acid or experience GERD symptoms. However, many who responded to the studies reported that they noticed an increase in GERD symptoms when they were under a lot of stress.


Knowing why stress aggravates acid reflux is less important than knowing how to reduce stress and manage your symptoms. Other treatment options and lifestyle changes appropriate for both anxiety and GERD include:

  • Psychotherapy or counselling
  • Eating a well-balanced meal
  • Avoiding trigger foods such as heavily spiced cuisine, greasy or fatty fried foods, citrus fruits, peppermint or spearmint, chocolate, carbonated beverages, alcohol, caffeinated beverages
  • Reducing stress
  • Progressive relaxation
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Sleep hygiene


If you are experiencing GERD due to stress, seek medical attention to get advice and guidance on lifestyle changes to reduce stress and get the necessary medication and treatment to ease symptoms of GERD

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