Most people believe that there is a link between acid reflux and stress. Many sufferers of acid reflux report more acute symptoms during times of stress. Studies have not shown a direct relationship between acid reflux and stress, but stress might be indirectly responsible for bouts of acid reflux.
Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a condition when stomach acid rises up into the lower portion of the esophagus. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is responsible for keeping acid from flowing into the esophagus, but in cases of acid reflux, the LES relaxes. Unlike the stomach lining, the esophagus is unable to withstand the stomach acid, causing irritation and a burning sensation.
Stress has not been found to cause the LES to relax and trigger a bout of acid reflux. Despite this, people frequently report an increase in incidents of acid reflux during periods of stress, and there does appear to be a relationship between acid reflux and stress. This has led many researchers to conclude that acid reflux and stress are linked by some of the other documented effects of stress.
For instance, during periods of stress, the body prioritizes functions essential for fight-or-flight and puts other processes on hold until the stress has passed. Muscles, heart and lungs are given extra food and oxygen so that they can work harder. This fuel is directed away from less essential functions, including digestion. When the digestive process is slowed, food remains in the stomach longer, and more pressure is placed on the LES. Hyperacidity also can result from slower digestion, and this condition can contribute to acid reflux.
Behavior is another link between acid reflux and stress. In times of stress, people are more likely to overeat or to seek out comfort food. Stressed people are more likely to smoke more or to consume more alcohol. Overindulgence places additional stress on the LES, making acid reflux more likely.
Although acid reflux and stress do not seem to be linked directly, reducing stress often is an effective way of reducing the frequency and severity of acid reflux attacks. Researchers agree that managing stress provides a host of benefits, including improved digestion. Relaxation techniques such as massage, meditation or simple quiet time can help reduce stress levels. Exercise is an especially useful method for managing stress, because it has the added benefit of reducing weight, which also will help to reduce the symptoms of acid reflux.