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Beyond Food: Other Causes of Heartburn and GERD

Non-Food Causes of Heartburn

When it comes to finding the cause of your heartburn and acid reflux, certain trigger foods get a lot of attention. Foods like tomatoes and chocolate and drinks like coffee and alcohol are looked at as the primary culprits in acid reflux disease.
While your dietary habits play a major role in your experience with heartburn and acid reflux, they aren’t the only thing to blame. There are a series of changes you can make in your habits and daily lifestyle that can reduce the severity and frequency of your heartburn symptoms.
These habits include:

  • Stop smoking
  • Wear loose fitting clothing
  • Sleep with your head elevated

The nicotine in cigarettes can weaken the LES, which can allow stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus. Smoking can also damage the lining of the esophagus, worsening the effects of reflux and heartburn.

Eating Habits Go Beyond Food

In addition to what you eat, how much you eat can lead to heartburn. When you overeat, your stomach distends and makes it difficult for the lower esophageal sphincter to close properly. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is the valve between the esophagus and stomach that’s designed to keep stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus.
Eating too much, especially in the evening before going to bed, may cause the LES to dysfunction, allowing stomach acid to escape into the esophagus. Routinely overeating leads to weight gain, and obesity is another risk factor for heartburn and acid reflux. Research suggests that people who are obese or overweight have a higher risk for heartburn and reflux than people at a normal weight.
In addition to overeating, heartburn can also be triggered by eating too quickly or lying down shortly after eating. To prevent heartburn, try taking 20 to 30 minutes to finish your meal and eating two to three hours before going to bed.

Other Causes of Heartburn

In some situations, heartburn and acid reflux are prompted by causes completely unrelated to your lifestyle habits or diet.  For example, common medications taken for asthma, high blood pressure, heart problems, arthritis or other inflammation, osteoporosis (low bone density), anxiety, insomnia, depression, pain, Parkinson’s disease, muscle spasm, or cancer may increase your risk for heartburn. Medicines used for hormone therapy can also be heartburn triggers. If you start experiencing heartburn after taking any medication, let your doctor know right away.
Sometimes chronic heartburn is caused by a condition called hiatal hernia, which develops when the LES and the upper portion of your stomach push through an opening in the diaphragm. Severe and chronic heartburn and acid reflux are the only symptoms of hiatal hernia. This condition is easily corrected with a minimally invasive surgery.


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