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How to Deal With Anxiety and Heartburn

Daniel Sher, MA, Clin Psychology
How to Deal With Anxiety and Heartburn

Many of the symptoms of anxiety cause further anxiety. The cyclical nature of anxiety is one of the reasons that this disorder can be hard to treat without some type of outside intervention. You experience anxiety, then you experience very frightening symptoms, and then you experience more 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.

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.

It's not always as simple as saying "anxiety causes heartburn." There are several potential causes of heartburn from anxiety:

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. However, there are some risks. For example, both stress and heartburn can lead to ulcers, and ulcers can be dangerous. GERD has a very low chance of causing long term disease. 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:

The first three symptoms are known to be triggers for 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 alone.

Some of those with anxiety claim to get relief from jogging and other forms of exercise. However, it should be noted that in general, exercise actually makes acid reflux temporarily worse. In the long term, though, it helps a lot with heartburn. While these options may prove helpful, there is one thing that should be considered first by people looking to get rid of their heartburn anxiety: address the root of the problem by treating your underlying anxiety! 

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