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The troublesome duo of acid reflux, commonly known as “heartburn” or sometimes gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), and heart palpitations afflict many of us. Are they coincidental, or is there any hidden link?
Heartburn and palpitations can also be confusing. How to tell them apart? We’ll take a closer look at how GERD and heartburn impact your heartbeat.
We’ll also shed light on the contribution of gas and indigestion, giving you a clearer understanding of what may precipitate these discomforts.
Can acid reflux cause heart palpitations?
Heart palpitations are related to the heart, whereas reflux disease falls under the digestive category. Some people connect the two since the stomach is located near the heart.
Is there any scientific evidence to back this idea?
What are acid reflux and heart palpitations?
- very fast or racing
- with skipped or extra beats (called ectopic beats)
- strongly or forcefully, like pounding or thumping
- like it’s fluttering
How about acid reflux? It occurs when the contents of your stomach flow back into your esophagus. It’s common and sometimes goes unnoticed without symptoms (5).
There’s a gate between your esophagus and stomach. It is called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Typically, the ‘gate’ closes once your food goes through. But if it doesn’t fully close, acid from your stomach can leak into your esophagus. That’s why acid reflux is also called (5, 6):
- gastroesophageal reflux (GER)
- acid regurgitation
- acid indigestion
If you find yourself stuck in a loop of discomfort from GER, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This chronic disease affects about 20% of people in the US. The actual number could be even higher as getting over-the-counter (without a prescription) medication is quite easy, so many may not report to their doctor (5, 7).
- Regurgitation: when the food contents and stomach acid come back up into your throat or mouth
- Heartburn: a painful, burning feeling in the middle of your chest, behind your breastbone, rising from the lower tip of your breastbone toward your throat
- Chronic cough, hoarseness, sore throat, and asthma
- Difficulty swallowing or pain while swallowing
- Loss of appetite and burping
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain in the upper belly
If you believe you have GERD or those medications you can buy over the counter, don’t relieve your symptoms, seek professional advice from a doctor (8).
Sometimes, people with GERD might notice their heart rate acting up.
In 1913, doctor Ludwig von Roemheld coined the new term ‘gastrocardiac syndrome.’ He believed the stomach problems could meddle with the heart. However, modern cardiology doesn’t fully agree with that theory. They just use the term to describe reflux heartburn, which feels like chest pain (10).
The jury’s still out on whether acid reflux can cause heart palpitations or if they are just a coincidence. However, some evidence suggests that acid reflux is associated with an increased risk of atrial fibrillation, which can present as palpitations (11). Still, a few theories are floating around that could explain this connection.
Similar risk factors
- Getting older
- Being overweight or obese
- Drinking alcohol
- Having caffeine
- Overeat or having a heavy meal
- Smoking or breathing in secondhand smoke
- Feeling stressed or anxious
0.62%‒14% of the patients with GERD also have atrial fibrillation (AF or AFib), a type of irregular heartbeat with palpitations as a symptom (11, 12). Those with GERD are also 39% more likely to come across AF than those without (11, 13).
Inflammation and blood flow
Some scientists suggest the link with inflammation. Acid reflux might set off the release of inflammation mediators. That may trigger inflammation inside the heart’s atria (11).
Heartburn, a symptom of acid reflux, may also have a hidden impact on your blood pressure. High blood pressure is closely connected to heart disease (15).
The vagus nerve
Acid reflux in the esophagus can overstimulate the vagus nerve (11). This stimulation may affect your heart rate (16, 17). However, the exact mechanism behind this relationship has yet to be determined.
Stress and anxiety
Anxiety is a potential bridge between digestive issues and heart palpitations. GERD can be a significant source of stress and anxiety (18). In a study of 258 patients with GERD, about 41% suffered from depression, and 34% had anxiety, which is a much higher rate than persons without GERD (19).
Certain medications can treat one part of the body yet, also cause problems in other areas. It sounds uncommon, but taking heart medicine may affect the stomach, and taking stomach medicine may affect the heart (22).
Observational studies revealed that patients taking PPIs for a long time have an increased risk of death from heart disease, gastric atrophy (stomach shrinkage), and gastrointestinal cancers. Unfortunately, about one in 14 people in the US use or have used a PPI pill (1, 28, 29).
Hiatal hernia can also put pressure on the heart by compressing and irritating it (11). This could lead to chest pain and a fast heartbeat.
Acid reflux is when your stomach content comes back up into your esophagus, while heart palpitations are about abnormal heart rhythms. They share a few risk factors like anxiety, hiatal hernia, and medication, but we’re not sure how they’re related. Some theories mention the vagus nerve and inflammation.
Heartburn and palpitations—What’s going on?
Heartburn is a burning or squeezing feeling in the esophagus that gives your chest pain. It’s often a result of chest wall pain or reflux esophagitis—a GERD-related inflammation. Acid reflux may account for 30%‒60% of the cases of patients with chest pain (31, 32).
Heartburn pain can sometimes move up to your throat, jaw, or neck. You may also feel the bitter or acidic taste at the back of your throat (1). This esophagus flutter tends to strike after a big feast or when you lie down (7, 30).
Even though the symptoms might seem alike, they’re driven by different causes. It could be a sign of GERD if you suffer from heartburn more than twice a week. Yet when you have recurrent palpitations, it might point towards a heart condition (3, 34).
When you doubt whether it’s heartburn or something more serious, you should get medical assistance immediately (30).
Heartburn and palpitations might be mistaken, but they’re unrelated. Heartburn usually tags along with GERD, while palpitations are a heart problem. The bitter or acidic taste in your mouth may imply heartburn. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to seek some experts’ advice.
Can gas cause heart palpitations?
No solid proof or widely accepted medical consensus confirms heart palpitations are caused by gas in your belly. However, don’t be surprised if both of them occur at the same time.
It is possible that a third factor causes both symptoms.
Gas and acid reflux
Flatulence, or gas, refers to trapped gas in your digestive tract. It is often explained by swallowing too much air or eating hard-to-digest foods (35).
In some cases, excessive gas in your digestive system can contribute to bloating, burping (or belching), and feelings of fullness (35). They can be mistaken for or accompany the symptoms of acid reflux or heartburn.
While gas can contribute to the discomfort associated with GERD, it is not the primary cause. The underlying cause of GERD is often the malfunctioning of your sphincter (6).
On the flip side, can GERD bring on more gas? Not really, because gas isn’t counted as one of the direct symptoms of acid reflux (8).
Heart palpitations and burping—What do they mean?
Burping is the sound you make when air escapes your stomach through your mouth. When you swallow food or drink, you also swallow some air. If too much air builds up in your stomach, you can burp to eliminate it (36).
Therefore, burping is a mechanism to alleviate the discomfort associated with trapped gas. Most of us burp around 30 times daily, and the number increases in those with acid reflux or indigestion (37, 38, 39).
Belching does not directly affect regulating heart rhythm or correcting any underlying heart condition. However, in some cases, it can temporarily relieve discomfort or pressure in the chest. What may it imply?
In fact, the sensation of ‘heart palpitations relieved by burping’ can temporarily relieve heartburn (40).
As heartburn and palpitations are often confused, some even think about gas-causing heart palpitations. But there’s no scientific proof or official term for that.
Can indigestion cause rapid heart rate?
If you have indigestion, you may not need to see a doctor. There are many home remedies for it. Yet bleeding, difficulty swallowing, or unintentionally losing weight can be signs you should see your doctor (37, 41).
Indigestion can sometimes be triggered by what you eat or how stressed you are (41). In some cases, these factors can fasten your heartbeat. But let’s get one thing straight—indigestion itself isn’t the direct cause of that rapid heart rate.
What is the treatment for heart palpitation related to gas?
The debate on whether there’s a connection between air trapped in the esophagus and palpitations is still ongoing.
Regardless of the link, finding ways to soothe your discomfort matters. Tackling that gas and acid reflux problem might be the key. Let’s check out a few ways to get that relief!
What to lose?
If you’re carrying some extra pounds, it might be worth considering dropping a few, as being overweight or obese is a significant GERD risk factor (42)
Eating for wellness
- Spicy or rich, fatty foods: Can exacerbate indigestion, gas, and GERD.
- Tea, coffee, or even cola: They are common sources of caffeine.
- Tomatoes, citrus fruits, peppermint, spearmint, and chocolate: May bring on heartburn.
- Chewing gum, hard candy, or fizzy drinks: They are common culprits of excess gas.
- Gas-producing veggies: They are cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, and kale) or legumes (beans, peas, and lentils).
- Some dairy products: Milk, ice cream, and yogurt can sometimes lead to a bloated and gassy feeling.
- Whole grains and sugar: They can upsurge the gas production in your gut.
- Sugar-free products containing sweeteners ending in ‘-ol’: Examples are sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, erythritol, and maltitol. You may notice a gas boost after eating these.
Why are some healthy foods like kale or tomatoes also on the list? They might cause gas or acid reflux for those with specific conditions, but not everyone. Thus, talking to your doctor about your safe-to-eat list is always the best.
Eating with intention
- Sit down to eat instead of eating on the run
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals
- Avoid using a straw
- Chew food thoroughly
- Avoid talking (especially arguments) while eating or drinking
- Avoid bending over, excitement, or exercising just after eating
- Avoid eating within 3 to 4 hours of bedtime. If you have eaten a lot or are still digesting food, wait until you feel better before sleeping.
Getting quality sleep is the key to feeling your best. Lack of sleep can trigger heart palpitations (3).
- Avoid eating for at least 3‒4 hours before going to bed.
- Sleep with your head elevated about 6 inches (15 centimeters). You can use a wedge-shaped pillow under your mattress. Avoid using too many pillows because they are less effective and can slip at night.
- Don’t wear clothes that are tight around your waist.
Since stress and anxiety can contribute to acid reflux and heart palpitations, weaving some stress-busting techniques into your routine is a good idea.
Take a breather and find activities that help you unwind and chill (1). Engaging in hobbies and relaxation-promoting activities can also help.
Moreover, you can try some popular techniques like deep breathing exercises, yoga, tai chi, or meditation. They’re all great options to calm your mind and body and find inner peace (6).
What can be mistaken for heart palpitations?
You might feel shortness of breath and chest tightness when you have breathing issues like asthma. If your muscles twitch or spasm, you can feel like fluttering. And with GERD, you may feel this burning feeling called heartburn right behind the breastbone. Sometimes they can be confused with heart palpitations.
Is it normal to have heart palpitations every day?
Having heart palpitations once in a while is common. Yet if it becomes regular, the pulses may imply harmful conditions. To evaluate it, your doctor may order a test called an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). This test can check the electrical signals from your heart and assess if it is slow, fast, or irregular.
Can GERD feel like a heart problem?
GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) can bring on unpleasant “heartburn.” This burning feeling can resemble chest pain related to your heart (angina). The culprit responsible for your distress is the esophagus. In fact, esophagus inflammation caused by GERD accounts for 10-20% of chest pain cases.
Is it bad to have multiple heart palpitations a day?
Heart palpitations are usually more of a discomfort than a threat, and having it once in a while is normal. However, experiencing multiple palpitations every day may imply that you should seek medical evaluation. It can be related to an underlying heart condition, such as arrhythmia.
Can you have palpitations but not showing on the ECG?
The palpitations often manifest as sudden sensations. These palpitations usually don’t indicate serious or prolonged irregular heartbeat (arrhythmias) but rather stem from factors like anxiety, stress, caffeine, or certain medications. They might not be captured by an ECG detecting heart problems.
Dealing with the uncomfortable tag team of acid reflux and heart palpitations can be frustrating.
Can GERD cause heart palpitation? They have a few risk factors in common, like anxiety, hiatal hernia, and medication. However, their exact connection is still a bit of a mystery. Some theories toss around the vagus nerve, and inflammation may cause an interaction between GERD and palpitations.
Heartburn and heart palpitations do not involve the same parts of the body. You can distinguish them by carefully observing the symptoms.
Heart palpitations aren’t directly caused by gas in your belly or indigestion. However, both of them can occur at the same time.