Learn about mechanisms behind stress or anxiety causing acid reflux. In surveys, the majority of people who experience acid reflux identify stress as a common trigger. The problem is that studies have failed to find a connection between the stress and the amount of stomach acid in the esophagus, which next page is the ultimate cause of heartburn pain. One explanation for this discrepancy is that stress may cause what’s known as “hypervigilance.” In other words, stressed people become more sensitive to and have a greater awareness of physical symptoms that may not bother them if they weren’t stressed.
The Society of Thoracic Surgeons reports that an estimated 10 to 20 million people in the U.S. suffer from chronic acid reflux, known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Many others have occasional reflux that typically manifests as heartburn. Although most people with acid reflux report that stress worsens their symptoms, stress itself appears unlikely to cause acid reflux. However, stress may heighten your awareness of and sensitivity to physical discomfort and tissue irritation, leading to the perception of more frequent or intense reflux symptoms. Stress also influences lifestyle choices that may contribute to heartburn.
Many studies have tried to suss out whether stress causes physical factors that lead to acid reflux. To date, researchers have found no consistent evidence that specific physical changes account for increased reflux symptoms during periods of increased stress. For example, an April 1996 study report published in the journal “Gut” stated that neither psychological nor physical stress tests resulted in significant changes in function of the esophagus. There is also no clear evidence that factors such as increased stomach production account for more frequent or intense heartburn during stressful periods. While physical changes cannot be ruled out as possible contributing factors, it appears unlikely that they are the primary cause of stress-related acid reflux.
Changes in Digestion Stress is known to affect the digestive process both in the intestines and in the stomach. It’s possible that anxiety is causing your body to digest food poorly, leading to acid buildup in the stomach that moves up the esophagus. Anxiety may also slow down digestion, leading to similar issues with food moving down the esophagus. Loss of muscle tone in the LES. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) can lose tone and mobility as we age, making it more likely for stomach contents to push up through the weakened valve. HCl levels also naturally tend to decline and digestion becomes more sensitive.