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GERD AND ANXIETY: THE POSSIBLE CONNECTION

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Gerd and anxiety

Every year around 18.1 percent population of the US suffers from anxiety disorders. And- as estimated by the researchers – around 20 percent of the people in the US have GERD. Huge numbers right! But wait…what is GERD and how is it connected to anxiety? Well, let’s dive deeper and try to understand the same.

Table of Contents

GERD and its Causes

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD is a chronic disease in which the stomach acid or bile flows back up into your esophagus. Occasional acid reflux is normal. But acid reflux and heartburn more than twice a week is a possible indication of GERD.

Whenever we swallow food, a circular band of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter at the bottom of our food pipe relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow into our stomach. Then it closes again.

When the LES is not working properly the acid can flow easily back up thus causing frequent acid reflux resulting in GERD.

Certain conditions that increase the risk of GERD are as follows:

  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Connective tissue disorders
  • Delayed stomach emptying
  • Hiatal hernia

Poor lifestyle choices such as smoking, indulging in more fatty food, and an irregular eating schedule can further aggravate the disease.

Anxiety and its Causes

We all get anxious- that’s totally normal. It’s how our brain reacts when it senses potential danger. But anxiety disorders are very different. They are a various mental illness that may cause constant anxiety and overwhelming feeling of fear in an individual.

Researchers still don’t know the real cause of anxiety disorders. They believe that many factors can play a significant role in it:

  • Genetics
  • Drug abuse
  • Medical Condition
  • External stress, to name a few.

Many other factors like history of mental illness, certain trauma, fear, and other psychological condition can result in a multitude of anxiety disorders.

The connection between GERD and Anxiety

There has been no direct evidence linking GERD and anxiety together, numerous studies over the years have established a probable relationship between the two.

A study was conducted in 2018 wherein 19099 individuals were analyzed. This study revealed that individuals having GERD had higher levels of anxiety and depression.

Moreover, in 2019, a study was conducted on 258 patients diagnosed with GERD. 112 amongst them also complained about chest pain.

The results showed that:

  • 107 patients had depression
  • 89 patients had anxiety
  • 70 patients had both depression and anxiety

This reveals that anxiety and depression levels were high amongst the GERD patients, particularly those who also had chest pain.

It is also observed that an anxious person tends to indulge in behaviors that can cause more acid reflux. This involves drinking, eating fatty food, smoking, etc which can result in heartburn. And it is also observed that GERD causes trouble in swallowing food and chest pain which can trigger anxiety and stress.

Hence, GERD and anxiety share a paradoxical relation wherein each one can result in the cause of the other.

Symptoms of GERD and Anxiety

Understanding the symptoms helps in the proper identification of the disease. There have different symptoms but heartburn, stomach pain, nausea, and sleeplessness are some common ones.

Heartburn is usually a painful or burning sensation in the middle of the chest or the throat. It occurs when the stomach acid flows up irritating the esophagus.

Acid reflux worsens when we lie down hence causing sleeplessness. Anxiety usually disrupts the sleep cycle of the individual.

Symptoms of GERD

  • Pain while swallowing
  • Vomit
  • Chest or abdomen pain
  • Foul breath

Symptoms of Anxiety

  • Lack of concentration
  • Hyperventilation
  • Panic attacks
  • Restlessness
  • Digestive diseases

Treatment and Prevention of GERD

Denis Parsons Burkitt had rightly said,” Diseases can rarely be eliminated through early diagnosis or good treatment, but prevention can eliminate the disease.”

The basic treatment that a doctor will recommend you to try first for curing GERD is undergoing lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications. If there is still no relief then the doctor might recommend other medicines and surgery.

Embracing a Healthy Lifestyle is the Key

GRED and anxiety

For the combined treatment of anxiety and GERD the doctor might recommend the following:

  • Over-the-counter antacids, such as calcium carbonate (Tums) 
  • H2 receptor blockers, such as Pepcid
  • Proton pump inhibitors, such as Nexium
  • Attending Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Taking benzodiazepines  
  • Attending stress relief classes

Consult a doctor before taking any medication. We don’t recommend the consumption of medicines without prior consultation.

Home remedies are equally useful for the treatment of GERD:

  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Do regular exercise
  • Avoid fatty and fried food
  • Reducing the caffeine intake

Conclusion

Even though there is still no established relation between GERD and anxiety, studies have shown that they do share a complex relationship. Although in some cases home remedies are really fruitful, if the anxiety and heartburn persist for a longer period of time – it’s time to visit the doctor.

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