Stress may worsen acid reflux in some people. However, certain medications and lifestyle changes can help treat this problem. Additionally, stress management may help prevent it in the future.

Acid reflux, also called gastroesophageal reflux (GER), causes heartburn. This is a burning sensation that occurs when acidic contents from the stomach leak up into the esophagus.

A 2018 article suggests that acute and chronic stress can worsen the physical symptoms of acid reflux.

However, people may be able to treat these worsening symptoms by eating smaller meals, elevating the head during sleep, and reducing stress where possible.

This article examines the link between stress and acid reflux, how to treat and prevent acid reflux, tips to manage stress, and when to contact a doctor.

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A 2018 article suggests that stress exacerbates symptoms in two-thirds of people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Researchers in a 2018 cross-sectional study also highlight that anxiety and depression levels were more prominent in people with GERD than in control subjects.

On top of this, stress may lead to changes in behavior that can worsen or trigger acid reflux, such as:

Other causes of acid reflux

Acid reflux may occur due to certain lifestyle factors or underlying conditions. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders (NIDDK), risk factors for GERD and GER include the following:

Some medicines may cause acid reflux or worsen the symptoms. These include:

Frequent acid reflux could indicate a condition such as GERD. Doctors may recommend certain lifestyle changes or medications to treat this condition, including the following:

If the above treatment options do not improve symptoms in people with GERD, doctors may suggest surgery to make changes to the stomach or help someone lose weight.

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) suggests the following lifestyle changes may also help prevent acid reflux:

  • eating smaller meals more frequently instead of large meals
  • avoiding eating within 3–4 hours of bedtime
  • raising the head end of the bed so that a person’s head and chest are above waist level
  • avoiding foods that trigger acid reflux, such as fatty and spicy foods
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • avoiding excessive alcohol
  • stopping smoking, if applicable, or avoiding second-hand smoke
  • wearing loose-fitting clothing

If a person feels more sensitive to acid reflux symptoms when they are stressed, they may benefit from stress management techniques, including the following:

  • Deep breathing exercises: Focusing on taking slow, deep, regular breaths may trigger a person’s relaxation response.
  • Exercising regularly: Exercise can significantly reduce levels of stress and anxiety.
  • Managing priorities: Using a to-do list or organizing tasks into order of urgency may help a person focus and feel less overwhelmed.
  • Getting enough quality sleep: Sleeping for 7–9 hours a night can help a person feel less stressed and overwhelmed.
  • Reaching out: Discussing the causes of stress with friends and family may help relieve negative feelings and result in new perspectives and solutions.
  • Stress-reduction strategies: Practicing mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, and other relaxation techniques can help reduce stress.
  • Psychotherapy: Talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, may help a person better understand and learn to cope with stress and anxiety.

Frequent acid reflux may indicate another health condition, such as GERD. People may choose to contact a doctor about acid reflux if:

Healthcare professionals are also available to help with stress. If stress starts to affect daily life, or if people are worried that stress is causing or worsening physical problems, such as acid reflux, they can speak with a doctor.

Doctors can refer people to other healthcare specialists, such as those who specialize in mental health.

Stress may make a person more sensitive to acid reflux symptoms, but more research is necessary to determine the exact link between stress and acid reflux.

Frequent acid reflux may indicate another condition, so people can speak with a doctor if it persists. Treatment options, such as antacids, PPIs, and H2 blockers, can help reduce symptoms.

Stress-reduction techniques, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, and yoga, can help reduce stress and may improve the severity of any acid reflux symptoms relating to stress.