Most adults have experienced heartburn before and can agree that it’s not a pleasant sensation. Those who have been dealing with the side effects of acid reflux might find themselves wondering: can heartburn cause shortness of breath?

In this article, we will explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options associated with acid reflux, and answer your commonly asked questions on the subject.

what is a heartburn

What is “Heartburn”?

The word “heartburn” refers to one of the symptoms of acid reflux. Heartburn describes a burning sensation and general chest pain experienced during an episode of acid reflux. Acid reflux occurs when the esophageal sphincter, the muscle that seals the opening of your esophagus, fails to close properly, allowing stomach acid to make its way up into the esophagus.

Frequent episodes of acid reflux may indicate the presence of acid reflux disease, otherwise known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).

what are the causes of acid reflux

Common Causes of Acid Reflux

Situations that put unnecessary pressure on the stomach can help contribute to flare ups of acid reflux; this includes circumstances like pregnancy, hernias, or wearing tight-fitting clothing. Acid reflux can also be a side effect of some medications.

Most commonly, heartburn and other GERD symptoms are caused by the things we eat! Acidic, fatty, and spicy foods can all cause the production of excess stomach acid, leading to acid reflux. Eating too much, too fast creates excessive amounts of stomach acid. Eating too late can also be problematic, since heartburn often occurs when someone is lying down to sleep.

Common Symptoms

Common symptoms of GERD or acid reflux include:

  • Burning sensations in chest and upper abdomen
  • Sour taste in mouth
  • Regurgitation and vomiting
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Chronic cough
  • Bad breath
  • Sore throat
  • Inflamed windpipe and breathing problems
understanding GERD and Asthma

GERD and Asthma

Now to answer the question at hand: can heartburn cause shortness of breath? In short, yes, acid reflux causes shortness of breath. How does this work? Typically, these breathing difficulties occur at night when stomach acid has a higher potential to rise up the throat and enter the lungs. This causes the respiratory airways to swell and become inflamed, which then leads to shortness of breath, chronic coughing, and wheezing. 

It is also important to note that people with asthma often experience issues with GERD. While the exact connection between the two is not fully understood, it is known that the breathing issues associated with asthma are often accompanied by symptoms of acid reflux, and vice versa.

steps for prevention and treatments for heartburn that can cause shortness of breath

Prevention and Treatment

There are many things you can do to prevent the occurrence of acid reflux and to manage the symptoms of GERD. First and foremost, focus on maintaining a diet that is free of fatty, spicy, and acidic food to prevent your system from producing extra stomach acid. Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and limiting stress can also help you manage the symptoms of acid reflux.

It is also recommended that patients avoid putting any unnecessary pressure on the stomach; this means avoiding overly tight clothing, or clothing that constricts the midsection. 

Lastly, avoiding food within two to three hours before bed and elevating the body during sleep reduces the risk of heartburn and other symptoms.

To treat heartburn that is already ongoing, contact your doctor for Proton Pump Inhibitors and H2 Receptor Blockers; you can also purchase over the counter antacids for heartburn relief.

When to Get Help

While occasional heartburn can be annoying, it does not pose any long term risks. However, a chronic condition like GERD can lead to further health complications when left untreated.

Prolonged exposure to excessive amounts of stomach acid can put the esophagus at risk of inflammation, scarring, ulcers, and even cancer. Conditions like Barrett’s Esophagus and Silent Reflux can also occur, along with tooth decay, ongoing breathing issues, and an overall decreased quality of life. 

For these reasons, if you feel you are struggling with GERD or another chronic acid reflux condition, seeking out medical advice for assistance would be an important step in taking care of your health.

Village Emergency Centers Can Help

When GERD becomes too much, reach out for help from a trained medical professional. Working with experts can help you evaluate your condition and come up with a treatment plan for managing your symptoms.