Is Your Chest Pain Due to Acid Reflux?

Senior man with chest pain
Mark Bowden/E+/Getty Images

Chest pain can be a symptom of several conditions, and one of the most serious conditions is a heart attack. Therefore, chest pain should always be reported promptly to your doctor, especially when accompanied by select other symptoms.

However, in many cases, chest pain can be caused by one of several digestive conditions. In fact, some studies suggest that over one-third of patients who experience chest pain were actually experiencing symptoms caused by GERD.

The digestive conditions that may cause chest pain include:

With both GERD and a hiatal hernia, the chest pain usually starts behind the breastbone (the sternum) ​and may travel up to the throat. It usually occurs shortly after eating and can last from a few minutes to several hours.

It is important to remember that the pain of a heart attack can sometimes be confused with the burning pain of GERD or a hiatal hernia, and it is always important to seek medical attention if there is any doubt as to the origin of this chest pain.

In some cases, pain from a peptic ulcer and a gallbladder attack radiates to the back or to the chest behind the breastbone and may feel like a heart attack.

As mentioned earlier, any chest pain should be evaluated immediately to rule out a heart attack. There are several things you can do to prevent chest pain.

Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals

Large meals expand your stomach and can increase upward pressure against the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).

Limit your intake of acid-stimulating foods and beverages

These foods include:

  • Fatty meats
  • Fried foods
  • Citrus fruits
  • Citrus juices
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint
  • Excessive alcohol consumption (especially red wine)
  • Tomatoes and tomato-based products
  • Caffeinated beverages (coffee)
  • Carbonated beverages (colas)
  • Peppers
  • Garlic and onions

Wait Two or Three Hours After Eating to Lie Down

Gravity helps to keep the stomach juices from backing up into the esophagus and assists the flow of food and digestive juices from the stomach to the intestines.

Elevate Your Head a Few Inches While You Sleep

Lying down flat presses the stomach's contents against the LES. With the head higher than the stomach, gravity helps reduce this pressure. You can elevate your head in a couple of ways. You can place bricks, blocks or anything that's sturdy securely under the legs at the head of your bed. You can also use a wedge-shaped pillow to elevate your head. Read this article for more tips on easing nighttime heartburn.

Don't Wear Belts or Clothes that Are Too Tight Around the Waist

Clothing that fits tightly around the abdomen will squeeze the stomach, forcing food up against the LES, and cause food to reflux into the esophagus. Clothing that can cause problems includes tight-fitting belts and slenderizing undergarments.


While stress hasn't been linked directly to heartburn, it is known that it can lead to behaviors that can trigger heartburn.

Relaxation tips include:

  • Sleep 7 to 8 hours a night. This is critical to keeping your stress level low. Studies have shown that sleep-deprived people have higher stress levels.
  • Eat balanced meals. By consuming plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and fresh fish, you'll provide your brain and body with the necessary nutrients to help you perform under pressure. It is also important to avoid your heartburn trigger foods.
  • Visualization. Envision any place and concentrate on seeing, hearing and smelling the things you imagine -- this will help you relax.

Maintain a Reasonable Weight

Obesity increases abdominal pressure, which can then push stomach contents up into the esophagus.

According to some statistics, approximately 35% of overweight people experience heartburn. The good news is that for many people, as little as a 10% decrease in weight will improve their heartburn symptoms.

Keep a Heartburn Record

Record what triggered your acid reflux episodes, its severity, how your body reacts and what gives you relief. 


"Common GI Problems" The American College of Gastroenterology

"Non-Cardiac Chest Pain" The American College of Gastroenterology

Continue Reading