Many of the symptoms of anxiety cause further anxiety. The cyclical nature of anxiety is one of the reasons that anxiety can be hard to treat without some type of outside intervention. You experience anxiety, then you experience very frightening symptoms, and then you experience anxiety over those symptoms.
This is the case with anxiety and heartburn. Heartburn, also known as acid reflux, can cause numerous symptoms that may lead to significant anxiety, especially if you are prone to health anxiety or panic attacks.
Is Anxiety Causing Heartburn?
Heartburn can be caused by anxiety. Anxiety can also cause worsening of heartburn. Our free 7 minute anxiety test will can provide you with an anxiety severity score, compare it to others, and teach you more about your anxiety severity.
Heartburn and Anxiety
The relationship between anxiety and heartburn is not an obvious one. Not everyone experiences heartburn when they're stressed, and others may be experiencing symptoms of mild hyperventilation which can mimic heartburn symptoms (such as chest pain) and are very common with anxiety.
The easiest place to understand your anxiety is by taking my free 7 minute anxiety test to find out more about how your symptoms interact. It's not always as simple as saying "anxiety causes heartburn." There are several potential causes of heartburn from anxiety:
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) Many of those that suffer from heartburn when they have anxiety already had GERD, also known as "acid reflux disease." Many people live with mild GERD, and one of the factors that causes an increase in GERD symptoms is anxiety. GERD is generally a non-dangerous disease, although the symptoms of GERD may be triggers for panic attacks.
- Stomach Pressure One of the issues that causes heartburn/acid reflux is pressure around the muscles of the stomach. One of the symptoms of anxiety is muscle tension. From there, it's easy to see where excess anxiety can potentially push acid up in the stomach and cause the symptoms of heartburn.
- Excess Stomach Acid It appears that stress increases stomach acid buildup. For many, this can cause issues with not only heartburn, but also appetite. Despite the increase in stomach acid, it's not terribly common for those symptoms to cause heartburn (they often cause indigestion and stomach discomfort, however), but it may in some people.
- 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 foods 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.
Stress can also affect your hormones and your body's efficiency. Thus many people with anxiety may have a lower esophageal sphincter (the sphincter that controls acid reflux) that works improperly as a result of anxiety.
Is Anxiety Heartburn Dangerous?
Heartburn in general is not dangerous per se. But both stress and heartburn can lead to ulcers, and ulcers can be dangerous. The problem is not just the danger, however. The problem is that the symptoms of heartburn often lead to further anxiety.
This is especially problematic if you have panic attacks. Some of the symptoms of heartburn include:
- Stomach discomfort.
- Chest pain.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Chronic cough.
The first three symptoms are known to be triggers of panic attacks. The last symptom can cause hyperventilation if the coughs are too frequent or too hard, and hyperventilation can lead to panic attacks.
Treatment Options for Heartburn From Anxiety
Traditional heartburn treatments only have a moderate effect on anxiety heartburn. Eating smaller meals, taking antacids, and eating foods that do not contribute to heartburn are a good place to start. But they're only going to do half the job, as many people that experience heartburn from anxiety fail to get complete relief when they utilize these treatments.
Some of those with anxiety claim they get help from exercise and jogging. It should be noted that in general, exercise actually makes acid reflux temporarily worse. In the long term, it helps a lot with heartburn, but in the short term it can make the symptoms a bit worse. Nevertheless, other people do claim that they experience a reduction in their symptoms when they go for a jog.
The only true way to get rid of anxiety heartburn is to stop the anxiety itself. I've helped hundreds of people with anxiety related heartburn overcome their symptoms through my free anxiety test. The test looks at your anxiety specifically and provides you with tools to help manage your anxiety and stop it forever.
Bradley, Laurence A., et al. The relationship between stress and symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux: the influence of psychological factors. The American journal of gastroenterology 88.1 (1993): 11.
Johnston, B. T., et al. Acid perception in gastro-oesophageal reflux disease is dependent on psychosocial factors. Scandinavian journal of gastroenterology 30.1 (1995): 1-5.
Johnston, B. T., S. A. Lewis, and A. H. Love. Psychological factors in gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. Gut 36.4 (1995): 481-482.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.