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Facts on Acid Reflux and Anxiety

Young stressed woman with eyes closed and hands on her temples

Anxiety can make you feel terrible, but can it contribute to acid reflux? Learn about the connection between the two and get some tips on managing your stress and heartburn.

Facing stress and anxiety is hard. From stressful world news to current events, a number of factors can put you on edge and make you feel unlike yourself. If you’ve experienced stress or anxiety, you know that the effects are both physical and emotional. They can affect the whole digestive system, in fact. Today, we’re here to discuss acid reflux and anxiety.

Before we dive in, let’s talk about the difference between stress and anxiety. While the two share similar symptoms—like uneasiness, headaches, loss of sleep and, yes, heartburn—they differ in other aspects.1 Stress is characterized as a response to a given situation, while anxiety is a person’s specific reaction to that stress.1 While stress is temporary, anxiety may be prolonged. The line between the two is certainly a little blurry, but it’s important to understand the difference.

Is there a link between acid reflux and anxiety or stress? Explore the information below, and find answers with Nexium 24 HR.

What Is Acid Reflux?

You may be familiar with acid reflux, but if you’ve never heard of it before, you might know it by another name: heartburn. Although acid reflux and heartburn are often used synonymously, heartburn is actually a symptom of acid reflux. Acid reflux happens when stomach acid flows back up into your esophagus. It occurs when the valve that keeps stomach acid from flowing up into your esophagus stops working correctly.2 This occurrence can cause discomfort, such as a burning sensation in your chest or neck, hence its common nickname “heartburn.”

Experiencing acid reflux can happen after eating acidic foods or lying down too quickly after a big meal. Overeating and eating fried, fatty foods are common heartburn triggers, amongst others. If you have acid reflux occasionally, it’s probably not a reason for concern, but experiencing it more than two times a week can be a sign that you should talk to your doctor.

What Triggers Acid Reflux?

Certain habits can affect acid reflux like eating spicy foods or foods with caffeine and chocolate, which may be heartburn triggers. Eating too much or lying down too quickly may increase the chances of acid reflux as well. But acid reflux triggers go beyond food. Smoking or taking certain medications can make your more prone to acid reflux, as can hormonal changes during pregnancy.

Another factor that may trigger acid reflux is stress. Stress itself does not cause acid production, but it may worsen the pain symptoms you experience. In one study, people who experienced anxiety or stress reported higher levels of pain from acid reflux.3 Taking steps to manage your stress by engaging in activities like meditation and exercise might be a good way to help relieve heartburn symptoms.

Can Anxiety Cause Acid Reflux?

As discussed above, stress and anxiety share some overlap, as far as symptoms go. Stressful situations may worsen your heartburn pain, and depending on how your body reacts to stress, they can also trigger anxiety. While more research needs to be done on the topic, some studies report a connection between acid reflux symptoms and anxiety.4 If a person suffers from stress or anxiety, they may also experience symptoms of acid reflux.

Keep in mind that this does not mean anxiety necessarily directly causes acid reflux. Just like stress, anxiety may make you more sensitive to heartburn pain, making symptoms harder to manage.5 In addition, frequent acid reflux itself can be a stressful experience, which can trigger anxiety or anxious feelings in certain individuals. In a way, it can be a continuous circle, with anxiety affecting acid reflux and vice versa.

How to Relieve Acid Reflux and Anxiety

Having acid reflux doesn’t mean you have anxiety. Likewise, anxiety won’t necessarily cause or affect heartburn symptoms. However, if you’re noticing symptoms of acid reflux, anxiety, or both, the first thing to do is to talk to your doctor. There are many ways to manage heartburn symptoms. You can also focus on eliminating trigger foods, or try an OTC treatment like Nexium 24 HR for heartburn relief for frequent heartburn that occurs more than two times a week. For occasional heartburn or intermittent heartburn you can turn to products like TUMS or Gaviscon.

If you have concerns about anxiety, the best thing you can do is talk to your doctor. They may be able to offer advice on how to reduce anxiety and manage any associated symptoms. In the meantime, just focus on taking care yourself. Try to alleviate stress by exercising, meditating, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough rest each night. And do things that make you happy—that is always the most important part.

Would you like to learn more about acid reflux and heartburn? Learn about common heartburn myths with Nexium 24 HR.


  1. Stress vs. Anxiety – Knowing the Difference Is Critical to Your Health. Mental Health First Aid. Accessed 5/13/2020. Referenced text is enclosed in a red box in source PDF.
  2. Acid Reflux and GERD. Owensboro Health: Gastroenterology & Hepatology. Accessed 7/8/2020. Referenced text is highlighted in the source PDF.
  3. The Relationship Between Stress and Symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux: The Influence of Psychological Factors. PubMed. Accessed 5/14/2020. Referenced text is enclosed in a red box in source PDF.
  4. Association Between Anxiety and Depression and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: Results From a Large Cross-sectional Study. JNM. Accessed 5/14/2020. Referenced text is enclosed in a red box in source PDF.
  5. Stress and your Gut. GI Society: Canadian Society of Intestinal Research. Accessed 7/8/2020. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.