Anyone with acid reflux knows it can be painful and frustrating, but the symptoms might actually point to a completely different (and often misdiagnosed) issue. According to a new study, it could be a little known condition called rumination syndrome.
Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital claim that due to their similar symptoms, rumination syndrome is frequently confused with upper gastrointestinal disorders like acid reflux and indigestion. However, instead of being triggered by the things we eat, this problem flares up when dealing with stress and anxiety.
Basically, any time the body starts to feel mounting tension, it reacts with reflux and may then learn to repeat that reaction over time. The study authors explain, “This pattern gets reinforced with positive associations (such as relief of anxiety and stress after regurgitation) as well as negative associations (such as the discomfort of trying to suppress the inner tension without regurgitating).”
Of course, it’s easy to see how the conditions can get confusing and difficult to diagnose properly. It’s a bit like the chicken or the egg: Did acid reflux cause the stress, or did the stress cause acid reflux?
Out of all the symptoms associated with acid reflux, such as coughing, difficulty swallowing, and respiratory issues, the researchers found that a combination of heartburn (particularly in the daytime) and regurgitation were the two biggest indicators that someone was actually dealing with rumination syndrome. If those are the main symptoms you experience, you might want to pay extra-close attention to whether they’re being set off by stress.
If you do discover you’re dealing with rumination syndrome, you can talk to your doctor about giving up medication for acid reflux. (Psst: Did you also know acid reflex meds can often make that condition worse anyway?)
Instead, the researchers cite promising results from behavior therapy and deep breathing exercises which have helped people unlearn this reflux reaction. Here’s hoping we can all find ways to ease the burn!