18.07.2021 – 11:51
The link between acid reflux and headaches
Heartburn, or acid reflux from the stomach, is a common problem. If you have regular heartburn that does not go away, or continues despite treatment with acid reflux, you may have a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
The situation can be easily overcome, but even more serious issues can develop. It can also be the cause of other problems you have, such as headaches.
How can GERD cause headaches?
Recent studies are increasingly linking GERD and headaches, but some questions remain as to why this is so. Headaches or migraines are associated with a number of gastrointestinal conditions. This includes:
functional abdominal pain
inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS)
Inflammatory bowel disorders (IBD)
Heliobacter pylori infection (H. pylori)
Studies suggest that between 30 and 50 percent of people with chronic headaches or migraines also have GERD. Researchers are still trying to determine which is the first, and whether GERD and headache coexist, or whether one causes the other.
Theories about why gastrointestinal disorders and headaches are related include increased sensitivity to pain in the body, particularly in the parasympathetic system. This is the part of the autonomic nervous system that is also responsible for and digestion.
Autonomic nervous system dysfunction has been linked to both GERD and migraine and may contribute to the development of one – or both – conditions. Food allergies, medications, and even serotonin levels are also common threads between headache and reflux, and may play a linking role between the two.
Can acid reflux cause headaches and dizziness?
We already have some evidence on the link between GERD and headaches, but did you know that dizziness can occur with both? Migraines or severe headaches have been linked to dizziness for a long time, but there is new evidence that GERD may contribute to this problem.
Acid reflux and GERD occur when stomach acid comes out of the opening between the stomach and esophagus and returns back to the mouth. When acid reaches the esophagus, it causes irritation or burning sensation. In some cases, this backflow of stomach acids can even reach the eustachian tubes in the throat.
These tubes connect to the inner ear. The ear plays a major role in balance and interruptions in pressure in the ear – especially with stomach acid – can cause dizziness.
GERD and acid reflux have also been linked to shortness of breath due to irritation and swelling in the airways. Shortness of breath, or dyspnea, is a major contributor to dizziness and loss of consciousness.
More evidence has emerged in recent years about the link between gut health – sometimes called the gut microbiota – and overall health. Ideally, every system in the body is balanced. When one is not, there can be a range of effects in areas you would not think are related.
When you suffer from recurrent acid reflux, sleep can be difficult because the acid moves more easily in the throat when you are lying down. Headache and acid reflux can affect sleep, and can lead to symptoms of chronic fatigue.
Symptoms of a headache due to acidity
It can be difficult – even for doctors – to distinguish if you have a headache due to acid reflux, GERD, or from one of the many other causes of the headache.
Treating the underlying cause rather than the symptoms one by one is a whole philosophy in medicine. You can take medication to treat the headache, or you can treat what is causing the pain. In the case of GERD-related headaches, people who effectively treat acid reflux have noticed a decrease in headaches.