Can Acid Reflux Cause Heart Palpitations?

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GERD is on the rise

  • Acid reflux (often referred to as gastroesophageal reflux or "GERD") is on the rise in the United States. Industrialized countries have more than triple the incidence of GERD that developing countries do, according to UNESCO Institute for Statistics. GERD is diagnosed in individuals who experience consistent heartburn or acid reflux. Most children and some adults have symptoms that don't involve heartburn. Some of these symptoms include trouble swallowing, asthma symptoms or a dry cough.

    Scientists are unsure what causes GERD. They do know that sometimes a hernia of the diaphragm can contribute to GERD. Certain foods and physical conditions also may be factors in developing GERD. Conditions include obesity and pregnancy; smoking and wearing tight clothes should be avoided. Foods to stay away from (particularly before bedtime) include those containing caffeine, chocolate, citrus, tomato or spicy sauces, garlic and onions, fried and fatty foods, and alcohol.

    In addition to lifestyle changes, pharmaceutical companies have developed powerful medications to combat GERD. Antacids are most commonly used and can be obtained without a prescription. Other drugs are foaming agents, H2 blockers, proton pump inhibitors and prokenetiks. Each of these offers substantial relief (although the side effects of prokenetiks, such as fatigue, depression and anxiety, can limit their usefulness).

The GERD heart palpitation connection

  • There is growing public debate over whether acid reflux can cause heart palpitations. A peer-reviewed Japanese study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology (WJG) on April 14, 2009, suggests that a condition outside the esophagus can either cause GERD or produce GERD-like symptoms. The study examined "linked-angina" (angina caused by GERD) and suggests that GERD patients possibly have heart disease.

    Because the nerves in the chest cavity are closely linked through the heart, esophagus and diaphragm, it may be difficult to detect where chest pain originates during an episode. The results of this study are a strong caution to patients and doctors to carefully examine each chest pain episode and not assume that a GERD patient is merely experiencing a strong acid reflux event.

    Chest pain, flushing, hypertension and rapid heart rate (tachycardia) are also known side effects of some of the widely prescribed GERD medications. Although research test results from Nexium claim that these side effects appear in only 1 percent of the population, given that 40 percent of the United States population suffers from GERD at one time or another, the number of patients who may suffer from side effects is considerable. The sweeping increase in obesity in the United States is believed to be a major contributor to the increase in GERD sufferers.

Self-care

  • The link between heart palpitations and acid reflux may be a chicken or egg hypothesis. Health problems such as obesity, lack of proper diet and exercise, and excessive consumption of caffeine, alcohol and tobacco induce cross-over symptoms that affect the heart and esophagus alike. Another WJG article published in the October 15, 2009 issue concludes that medications used to treat GERD also cause weight gain.

    If you are experiencing chest pain, palpitations, nausea, sweating and chills, call your doctor or 911 right away. After you are diagnosed, make the lifestyle changes that your doctor recommends. It may not be easy and you may be going against the stream, but once you find relief from your symptoms, you will likely find it well worth the effort.

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