Acid reflux may be a common gastrointestinal problem, but it turns out its symptoms are not always that common. From headaches to nerve pain, there are uncommon acid reflux symptoms that can cause alarm and panic to patients.
So, what are rare acid reflux symptoms? Headaches, dizziness, asthma symptoms, and nerve pain are among those considered to be uncommon but safe acid reflux symptoms. On the other hand, fever and intense pain accompanied by left arm pain are just two examples of potential medical emergencies for reflux patients.
Read on to learn more about the lesser known acid reflux symptoms, and whether or not they pose a health risk.
Understanding Acid Reflux
Acid reflux is a gastrointestinal condition involving the regurgitation of stomach contents back up the esophagus. Patients experience a host of symptoms including coughing, feeling of something being stuck in the throat, and difficulty swallowing. Patients also report feeling pain radiating in their chest or heartburn, which is another term used to describe acid reflux.
Acid reflux occurs when a small muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) located below the esophagus malfunctions, allowing food, acid, and other stomach contents to travel back up from the stomach.
What Triggers It?
Doctors are unable to identify the direct cause of acid reflux. However, these circumstances increase the risk of developing acid reflux:
- Pregnant women experience hormonal changes that can affect the LES, causing acid reflux. Pregnant women who have no history of acid reflux can suddenly experience symptoms due to the added pressure of the baby to the stomach.
- Constant exposure to acidic and fatty foods are known triggers of acid reflux. A diet composed mostly of citrusy foods and foods high in fat trigger acid production in the stomach, which can increase acidity levels and create discomfort.
- Eating habits such as eating large meals, lying down after a meal, and snacking close to bedtime are also triggers of acid reflux. These eating habits don’t allow proper digestion and can irritate the stomach, leading to regurgitation and heartburn.
- Bending and lifting heavy objects can also trigger episodic acid reflux. These actions put pressure on the stomach which could temporarily loosen the LES and allow bile to travel back up the mouth. Discomfort usually goes away once the patient resumes an upright position. Read more: Does Working Out Make Acid Reflux Worse?
Are There Rare Acid Reflux Symptoms?
Although a common gastrointestinal condition, not all acid reflux symptoms are shared by patients. Some only experience heartburn and regurgitation, which are two distinct signs of acid reflux. Others may exhibit symptoms that stray from the usual list.
Listed below are some of the usual concerns on uncommon acid reflux symptoms. Keep in mind that the majority of these are caused by chronic acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and may not be relevant to patients with temporary acid reflux.
If so, a separate issue not related to acid reflux may be the cause of the following symptoms:
Can Acid Reflux Cause Gas
On average, healthy individuals pass gas 13 to 21 times a day. This gas is expelled through the mouth (burping) or anus (flatulence). Gas accumulates in the digestive tract through eating (swallowing air) or bacterial fermentation.
As digestive bacteria break down food, little pockets of air are created in the process. Because the bacteria in each human body is different, some people may be more tolerant of digesting certain food compared to other people.
How Are Acid Reflux and Gas Related
Excessive gas and acid reflux may exist simultaneously. A patient experiencing excessive flatulence may also experience bloating from acid reflux. While acid reflux does not directly cause gas, doctors believe that the two may be interlinked.
This is because certain conditions that trigger acid reflux can also trigger gassiness. Individuals who eat spicy and citrusy foods may increase their acidity levels while also triggering gassiness. Alleviating gassiness could coincidentally improve acid reflux symptoms because the circumstances that create these conditions tend to be similar.
Learn more about what food to avoid in this article: What Is the Best Breakfast for Acid Reflux Sufferers?
Can Acid Reflux Cause Dizziness
Dizziness and acid reflux are rarely associated with each other. However, personal accounts show that acid reflux, specifically GERD can also lead to dizziness in patients. This dizziness is often characterized as lightheadedness, weakness, and a temporarily blurry vision.
Dizziness and Acid Reflux: Is There a Link?
While dizziness is not often listed as a common symptom of acid reflux, a study suggests that there is a link between peripheral vertigo (vertigo caused by ear problems) and acid reflux.
Scientists suggest that patients who experience dizziness alongside their acid reflux may be due to gastric acids irritating the ear, which could lead to ear infections.
The study reported that 77.6% of patients with peripheral vertigo were also diagnosed with acid reflux compared to 26% of patients without reflux symptoms.
Although further studies are required to finalize the findings, the researchers suggest that reflux contents such as Hydrochloric acid and pepsin could get into the middle ear through the Eustachian tube and affect the ear directly. This can cause tinnitus or a perceived ringing of the ears.
Another way acid reflux could cause dizziness is through bacterial infection. The bacteria Helicobacter pylori can travel further up the esophagus through reflux contents and reach the upper respiratory tract. This could cause scarred ear drum (tympanosclerosis), leading to dizziness.
Learn more: Can Acid Reflux Cause Sinus and Ear Problems?
Acid Reflux and Headaches
While there are no studies showing that gastrointestinal disorders can lead to headaches, there are publications that illustrate how gastric problems, in particular acid reflux, can coincide with headaches.
A study involving 43,782 patients studies the possible prevalence of headaches in patients with gastrointestinal problems. Compared to diarrhea and constipation, patients with acid reflux symptoms report higher prevalence of headaches.
Another study involving 1,832 migraine patients were tested for heartburn and GERD symptoms. Of the group, 22% reported GERD diagnosis, 11.6% reported heartburn, and another 15.8% reported previously undiagnosed reflux symptoms.
These studies show that patients with acid reflux problems also tend to experience headaches, although there are no clear reasons why. Although unclear, doctors confirm that treating gastrointestinal problems also alleviates headache symptoms, which is how acid reflux-related headaches are treated.
Can Acid Reflux Cause Asthma
Patients with asthma are known to experience GERD and are likelier to develop acid reflux than people without asthma. This is because acid reflux can cause damage to the esophagus, leading to chronic coughing.
Overproduction of acid and constant exposure to stomach contents could also compromise the lungs, making it more susceptible to irritants like dust.
Developing Asthma Due to GERD
It’s not just asthmatic patients who can be affected by GERD. Turns out that patients who are non-asthmatic can have respiratory problems due to reflux symptoms.
Wheezing, shortness of breath, difficulty are tell-tale signs of asthma. Commonly diagnosed in childhood, adults can also develop asthma late in their lives due to a variety of reasons. Some patients can develop asthmatic symptoms while others go on to experience chronic asthma symptoms and eventually develop adult asthma.
Asthma can be caused by a variety of stimuli including exposure to allergens and persistent flu. Doctors tend to identify acid reflux, or GERD in particular, as the cause for asthma when:
- Asthma symptoms worsen after a meal
- Asthma begins during adulthood, after the patient experiences reflux symptoms
- Asthma doesn’t get better with traditional asthma treatments
Is It Always Serious?
Wheezing and chronic cough require proper diagnosis before asthma is ruled out. After all, acid reflux can cause temporary damage to the esophagus, triggering both symptoms. Just because you’re experiencing wheezing and coughing doesn’t mean you have developed adult asthma.
Can Acid Reflux Cause Nerve Pain
Acid reflux symptoms can be typical or atypical in nature. Tingling limbs and nerve pain are considered rare and atypical acid reflux symptoms.
Dr. Mark Babyatsky, a former department chairman at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, explained that inflammation from acid reflux can reach the lungs and trigger pneumonia.
As a result, the diaphragm can become inflamed, affecting the phrenic nerve, which is a nerve connecting the neck, lung, heart, and diaphragm. In this scenario, a patient can feel referred pain in the limbs, specifically the arms and shoulders.
Alternatively, nerve-related issues may be caused by pre-existing neuropathic conditions, leading to acid reflux. An example of this is gastroparesis. Gastroparesis is a form of diabetic peripheral neuropathy characterized by slow digestion. This leads to bloating, heartburn, and vomiting of undigested food.
If you’re experiencing acid reflux symptoms with nerve pain, there’s a high chance that your nerve pain is not reflux-related, especially if you are experiencing temporary reflux. Get in touch with a medical professional to find a separate diagnosis concerning your nerve pain.
Arm Pain: Heartburn Or Something Else?
Heart attack survivors often recount their first symptom as a heartburn-like sensation. Many patients explicitly use the word heartburn when recounting their cardiac experience. Patients often realize that their “heartburn” is in fact not reflux-related but heart-related when:
- There is a pain radiating up the arm, specifically the left arm
- They have no history of acid reflux
- There is a burning sensation in the chest
- They have not eaten anything prior to the pain
- The pain doesn’t go away with antacid
If your heartburn symptoms don’t go away after taking an antacid, and are accompanied by arm pain and back pain, we suggest going to an emergency facility immediately to get medical help.
Can Acid Reflux Cause Chest Pain
Chest pain is one of the most common symptoms of acid reflux. Chest pain related to reflux is also called noncardiac chest pain (NCCP). Chest pain occurs during reflux episodes because the heart and the esophagus share a nerve network. Acid reflux, specifically GERD, causes up to 66% of reported NCCPs.
Evaluating Your Chest Pain
Since chest pain from acid reflux and more serious conditions such as heart attack are hard to distinguish, it’s important to know how to evaluate your chest pain. Chest pain from acid reflux often affects the sternum or the area below it called the epigastrium. Pain from acid reflux is often characterized as a sharp pain, which gets worse with coughing.
Meanwhile, chest pain from non-acid reflux sources could be described as a deep, searing pain. Heart-related chest pain often radiates to other parts of the body including the back, neck, shoulders, and arms.
The symptoms that accompany chest pain are also key in evaluating the nature of the pain. Gastro-related chest pain is often accompanied by burping or flatulence, trouble swallowing, bile regurgitation, and a burning sensation in the throat or stomach.
Cardiac-related chest pain is often accompanied by numbness in the left arm or shoulder, shortness of breath, dizziness, and high body temperatures.
Can Acid Reflux Cause Fever and Chills
Sustained esophagus damage from bile regurgitation can lead to esophagitis, which is the inflammation of the esophagus. Esophagitis can also be caused by infections, abuse of oral medication, and allergies.
Reflux esophagitis is a complication of acid reflux, leading to tissue damage and inflammation. Patients with infectious esophagitis may experience fever, chills, muscle aches, and headaches. Dealing with acid reflux trigger often alleviates esophagitis symptoms.
On the other hand, acid reflux alone doesn’t cause fever and chills.
If you are not diagnosed with GERD or esophagitis but are experiencing fever and chills with reflux symptoms, get in touch with your doctor immediately to get more information. You could be experiencing a severe bacterial infection and need antibiotics to get well.
Can You Have Acid Reflux and Not Know It
Acid reflux can manifest in different ways. Other patients may report extreme versions of acid reflux involving constant heartburn and regurgitation, while others might only report trouble swallowing and coughing.
Alternatively, there is another form of esophageal reflux that doesn’t exhibit the same symptoms as GERD or heartburn. If you’re experiencing classic reflux symptoms such as coughing and sleep apnea, you may be experiencing what is known as silent reflux.
Do You Have Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR)?
Laryngopharyngeal reflux or LPR is a type of esophageal reflux that doesn’t involve the tell-tale sign of GERD: heartburn. As a result, patients have a difficult time understanding the nature of their symptoms. In most cases, patients with LPR don’t even know they have reflux, which is why the disorder is called silent reflux.
LPR is caused by the same mechanism that triggers GERD. When the lower esophageal sphincter loosens, stomach contents travel back up the esophagus. In this case, stomach acids travel further up the pharynx, reaching the larynx (voice box) and nasal pathways. As a result, a patient with LPR experiences symptoms like:
- Chronic cough
- Voice hoarseness
- Difficult swallowing; feeling of persistent lump in the throat
- Post-nasal drip
- Sore throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Sleep apnea, difficulty going to sleep caused by coughing
LPR is relieved the same way as GERD. By improving your diet and food choices and adopting healthier lifestyle choices, you can alleviate symptoms and regain control over your health.
Get Professional Help Today
Don’t let scary symptoms dictate how you live your life. Get a clear diagnosis of your symptoms today and learn what’s causing you discomfort.
Whether it’s heartburn or something else entirely, our top gastroenterologists at Gastro Center NJ will give you everything you need to get your health back on track.
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