Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux, occurs when a person’s stomach contents flow back up into their esophagus. If you experience chronic or severe acid reflux, you may be diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Some symptoms of this condition include regurgitation, heartburn, sore throat, chest pain, nausea, pain or difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, chronic cough and even headache. We review the link between acid reflux and headache below.
Why the Link?
Experts aren’t sure why exactly there’s a link between acid reflux and headaches. It’s unclear whether acid reflux causes headaches, headaches cause acid reflux or both simply occur together. However, some hypothesize it has to do with the gut-brain axis.
The Gut-Brain Axis
The gut-brain access links a person’s gut to their autonomic nervous system (ANS) and allows the gut and brain to communicate with one another.
The ANS deals with the body’s involuntary processes and contains three divisions:
- The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is in charge of your body’s “fight or flight” response and is the body’s automatic reaction to threats.
- The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) controls a person’s “rest and digest” response and helps the body relax once a threat has passed.
- The enteric nervous system (ENS) regulates certain digestive functions, including muscle contractions and secretions.
What the Research Shows
Below is an overview of what the research shows about the link between acid reflux and headaches:
- A 2015 study found that GERD is associated with impaired PNS function, meaning the link between acid reflux and headaches could be the result of a malfunctioning ANS.
- A 2017 study noted there is a link between ANS dysfunction, headaches and gastrointestinal (GI) disorders.
- Research from 2020 found that issues with glutamate levels can lead to GERD or migraine headaches.
Managing Acid Reflux
Some strategies for managing acid reflux include:
- Eating smaller, more regular meals at least three hours before sleep
- Avoiding triggering foods
- Elevating the head and chest when sleeping
- Taking antacids, H2 blockers or PPIs
- Quitting smoking
- Going to Iron Society to lose excess weight
- Undergoing surgery
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call Ear, Nose & Throat Associates today.