respiratory reflux
March 25, 2024

Does Stress Make Acid Reflux Worse?

respiratory reflux


  • Stress is defined as unrelieved tension, which can be caused by anxiety, aggravation, loss, as well as money, family, and relationship issues … just to name a few … alone or in combination.
  • The Vagus Nerves, the most powerful nerves in the body, control the digestive, respiratory, and cardiovascular systems; and emotions cause acid reflux, including heartburn, because of how the vagus is wired.
  • Emotional stress can also cause strong vagally-mediated symptoms such as fainting and vomiting; but even mild stress, an aggravating situation, can cause or worsen acid reflux suddenly or over time.

I could not even begin to list all the emotions that fall under the category of stress; however,  stress is usually defined as unrelieved tension … and includes aggravation, anxiety, loss, grief, time pressure, as well as work, money, and relationship problems. Stress can also result from a catastrophe.  

Stress makes reflux worse through the Vagus Nerve. One nerve, the vagus, cranial nerve ten, comes out of the skull and innovates the respiratory and digestive systems, and the entire cardiovascular system. The vagi (pl. vagus) control vascular tone, heart rate, and blood pressure. And fainting (syncope) is an example of how emotions can cause vagally-mediated changes in cardiovascular function leading to collapse.

Relevant to the relationship between stress and reflux: The esophagus, esophageal valves (upper and lower), and stomach are all under the control of the vagus, and any acute or chronic emotional upset can cause acid reflux… and stressful events can cause vomiting, again from vagal signals. In addition to stress altering cardiovascular and gastrointestinal function, it also can dramatically alter respiration, e.g., panic attacks.

How Can I Alleviate Stress?

Since stress is defined as unrelieved tension, any activity that interrupts your continuous internal dialogue can help. Most useful anti-stress activities achieve a meditative state, but not necessarily through meditation itself. What are meditative States? Birdwatching, movies, games (chess, checkers, cards, backgammon, etc.), athletic activities or walking, and anything that requires focus on something besides oneself is meditative. Any meditative activity interrupts your good or bad internal dialogue as your focus changes … break old patterns and create new ones.

Going to a yoga class doesn’t count if you can go (or not go) anytime. On the other hand, joining a bowling or paddle ball league, taking an art class, or doing some other activity that meets at least once a week and involves other people will help relieve the stress in your life. I strongly recommend choosing an activity you can really look forward to.

Also, try to walk a minimum of 15-30 minutes daily; that’s a great stress reducer. If you have a treadmill with a television on the wall in front; the advantage is that you can walk in hot, cold, rainy, or whatever the weather conditions are … and keep your interest so you walk longer.


If you’re interested in scheduling a virtual consultation with me, you can Book Online. Additionally, if you’re looking for more information regarding the diagnosis and treatment of respiratory reflux, I recommend checking out my two companion books on Amazon: Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook & Cure and Dr. Koufman’s Acid Reflux Diet. For those who suffer from chronic cough, I suggest taking a look at The Chronic Cough Enigma.

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