What is the Link Between GERD and Anxiety?

Anxiety disorders are associated with an increased risk for GERD

GERD and anxiety disorder. Getty Images Credit: GlobalStock

Did you ever think that your heartburn could be related to your anxiety? Research suggests that a connection exists, although the precise reason why is unknown.

What Is GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or acid reflux disease, occurs when acid from the stomach refluxes into the esophagus causing symptoms like heartburn, trouble swallowing, or a burning taste in your throat. GERD may also lead to complications like chronic cough, erosive esophagitis, and even esophageal cancer.

What Causes GERD?

The esophagus is a muscular tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a ring of muscle that closes the stomach off from the esophagus when you are not eating. When you eat, this muscle relaxes, allowing food to pass smoothly from the esophagus to the stomach. The LES then closes again so that food in the stomach will not back up into the esophagus. But when the LES does not function properly, GERD may develop when stomach acid refluxes into the esophagus.

Link Between Anxiety and GERD

Studies have shown that the incidence of anxiety in people with GERD is higher than those in the general population. In addition, one study in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics found that people with anxiety had a two to four-fold increased risk of having reflux symptoms. This suggests that anxiety may play a role in the development of GERD, although researchers aren't entirely clear how.

 

Some experts believe that a brain chemical called cholecystokinin (CCK), which has been linked to panic and gastrointestinal disorders, may play a role in the prevalence of GERD in people with anxiety disorders. Another possibility or contributing factor may be that when people are anxious they tend to engage in behaviors that may trigger or worsen acid reflux, like smoking, drinking alcohol, or eating fatty or fried foods

This all being said, it's important to remember that a link does not imply causation. In other words, these studies are not suggesting that anxiety directly causes GERD or vice versa. Rather, a relationship or connection has been found between the two health conditions that is likely complex.

A Word From Verywell

The big picture here is that if you suspect you have anxiety or GERD or both, be sure to see your healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. The good news is that both can be effectively treated—and treating one may even help the other.

Sources:

Jansson C, Nordenstedt H, Wallander MA, Johansson S, Johnsen R, Hveem K, Lagergren J. severe gastro-oesophageal reflux symptoms in relation to anxiety, depression and coping in a population-based study. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2007 Sep 1;26(5):683-91.

Yang X-J, Jiang H-M, Hou X-H, Song J. Anxiety and depression in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease and their effect on quality of life. World J Gastroenterol. 2015 Apr 14;21(14):4302-09.

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