Skip to main content

Can Stress Cause Heartburn or Make Heartburn Worse?

< Back to the article list

If you suffer from occasional heartburn, you might have noticed that your symptoms sometimes kick in when you’re stressed or anxious. While most of us associate heartburn with eating fried or fatty foods or simply eating too much, there is evidence that stressful events can trigger it — but why?

We looked into some of the research surrounding stress and heartburn to find possible connections; because the last thing you need when you’re dealing with life stress is an unexpected bout of heartburn! Of course, when you do experience that occasional burning sensation, you can always turn to TUMS. TUMS Chewy Bites provide fast relief for heartburn and acid indigestion in every tasty, chewy bite!

Stress and Heartburn

Research is beginning to reveal what many people have been experiencing in their daily lives: increased stress is connected to heartburn.

A 2004 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine looked at 60 participants who dealt with heartburn over the course of 10 months. Researchers found that “severe, sustained life stress” could “significantly” predict increased heartburn symptoms. There was also a connection to heartburn symptoms and exhaustion.

Researchers were careful to say that they weren’t looking at minor mood changes or small stressors — the connection was between major stressful life events and increased probability of heartburn symptoms.

An older investigation from 1998 found that out of 2,000 participants, women were apt to self-report that their heartburn was caused by a few factors, including “stressful family situations” and “a hectic day at home.” Men often cited “long work hours” and “business travel” as two triggers. While all of these issues are slightly different, they can all be classified as stressful.

How Stress Affects Heartburn

While more research needs to be done before researchers can clearly define the mechanism behind the relationship between stress and heartburn on a more psychological or physical level, it does seem safe to assume that if you deal with heartburn on occasion, you may find it triggered by stressful situations.

Here are some of the reasons researchers have found that stress-related heartburn occurs:

  • The link between the brain and the digestive system can cause changes in either direction. Stress can cause digestive changes, and digestive changes can cause stress reactions in the brain and body.
  • Stress slows down digestion. Ever notice that you may lose your appetite when stressed out? That’s your body slowing down the digestion process, keeping food in your stomach longer—and giving stomach acids more time to cause stress-related heartburn.
  • Stress amplifies pain by making you more sensitive to it. Your heartburn may not be stronger during stress, just more noticeable.

Relieving Stress-Related Heartburn

Besides keeping antacids close by in case heartburn occurs, you can try to stay one step ahead of it:

  • Avoid heartburn-triggering foods and eating too much when you’re stressed out.
  • Practice sleep hygiene—dark, quiet rooms; regular bedtime—and get a full night’s sleep as often as possible. Sleep hygiene also includes going to bed without a full stomach, so skip the late-night stress snacks.
  • Stay active. Exercise has been shown to reduce stress as well as aid digestion—helpful for combating the stress response to the digestive system.
  • Put down the alcohol and cigarettes. Many people reach for these when they’re feeling jittery or nervous, but they can both contribute to heartburn.

Related articles