Stress and GERD
Half of all heartburn patients suffer from stress. Heartburn is a symptom of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD which is often referred to as acid reflux.
Those suffering from stress often have increased blood circulation to the heart and much of the body’s energy is directed away from the stomach to other parts of the body. While the stomach has less energy to digest our food, stomach acid increases, overshadowing the enzymes and oxygen needed to properly break down the contents of the stomach.
With stress causing the digestive system to function improperly, the contents of the stomach may remain in the stomach longer and the increased stomach acid can be refluxed into the esophagus and cause GERD symptoms.
What are the Symptoms of GERD?
Uncomplicated GERD symptoms include:
Heartburn – This is typically described as a burning ache in the middle of the chest. Heartburn may cover the abdomen and extend into the neck and some sufferers will also have a burning pain that goes into the back. Sometimes this pain isn’t a burning ache but a sharp pain with pressure that can be mistaken for a heart attack. To help determine the difference between heartburn and heart attack, see this slideshow.
Regurgitation – This symptom is when refluxed liquid or stomach contents get all the way to our mouth. Usually this is in small amounts as most refluxed content will stay in the esophagus. Some GERD sufferers will regurgitate larger amounts of food and liquid which can cause vomiting.
Nausea – This is an uncommon symptom of GERD. If the patient has unexplained nausea or vomiting, it is the first indicators of the disease. Some GERD sufferers will mainly have nausea as a symptom while most will mainly have heartburn. For those with nausea it can be frequent and severe and even result in vomiting.
The signs of indigestion can indicate GERD or can be a precursor to GERD. The signs of indigestion include:
- A bloating or full feeling
- Having gas or belching after you eat
- Having an acidic or sour taste in your mouth, this can signal acid reflux
- Nausea and/or vomiting after you eat
- Having a burning ach in the upper abdomen or stomach
- Having your stomach growl after you eat
- Abdominal or back pain after you eat
If you are under stress, these symptoms may increase in frequency and severity.
Making GERD Symptoms Worse
The symptoms of GERD can be exacerbated or triggered by stress. Stress causes more stomach acid which can cause heartburn, regurgitation or nausea. But there are other things that can increase GERD symptoms along with stress or on their own.
Smoking and alcohol consumption can trigger acid reflux. Eating too much and too fast can also cause GERD symptoms. Being overweight or pregnant can put pressure on the stomach, which can cause the acid in the stomach to reflux into the esophagus. Even bending over or picking up something heavy can cause you to force small amounts of stomach contents back through the muscular valve that separates the stomach and lower esophagus.
There are foods like chocolate and peppermint that can cause this valve to relax and allow stomach acid and other stomach contents to flow back into the esophagus. There are other foods like citrus fruits and tomatoes that can increase the amount of acid into the stomach.
Lifestyle Changes to Relieve Stress and GERD
Stress happens. If you live, you have stress. But you need to look at your lifestyle and make some changes which you have control over. If you are overweight which adds to the possibility that you will have GERD, then work to lose even a few pounds. Add in some type of exercise, which will help you manage stress as well as help you lose weight. Both will help you relieve GERD symptoms.
When you eat, turn off the TV and keep dinner conversation away from anything stressful. Use meal time as an opportunity to relax, enjoy your food and take a break from everything. You might also want to consider eating four to six smaller meals throughout the day instead of three larger ones and include foods like apples, bananas, peas and broccoli which can help reduce acid reflux symptoms. Eat slowly and chew your food well. All of these things can help reduce stress and possibly help you lose weight and will definitely help you treat GERD the natural way.
Stop smoking, watch your alcohol and caffeine intake and assess the things in your life which cause stress. Consider meditation or yoga exercises which can help you release stress or consider a stress management class, if necessary.
Finally, if you can’t sleep due to GERD and are tired, it will add to your stress levels. Take steps to reduce GERD symptoms at night so that you can rest. This includes not eating or drinking any alcohol for several hours before bed. Consider raising the head of your bed six inches or getting a wedge pillow that will keep your body in a position with your stomach lower than your esophagus when you sleep.