Menopause and Acid Reflux: Understanding the Connection

Last updated 05.20.2024 | by Sabrina Johnson | 8 Minutes Read

This article has been reviewed and fact checked by Dr. Karen Pike, a senior physician administrator and board-certified emergency room doctor actively working in northern California. Read more at our medical disclaimer page.


Approximately 20% of adults in the US suffer from Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), more commonly known as Acid Reflux (1).

Do you know this condition also affects women who are in their perimenopause and menopause stages? Yes, it is a common symptom of menopause.

I have seen women being unaware of acid reflux being a menopausal symptom and considering it as an occurrence of irregular and unhealthy food habits.

A study has shown that almost 42% of perimenopausal and 47% of menopausal women suffer from GERD (2).

Depending on its severity, it can cause mild to extreme health problems.

Although the symptoms are mostly mild, it is necessary to be aware of the disease and how it is connected to menopause.

In this article, I will explain acid reflux, the link between menopause and acid reflux, steps to manage it, and when to see a doctor.

Dealing with GERD? Keep reading to learn how to handle the condition.

Understanding Acid Reflux (GERD)

First, let’s talk about Acid Reflux, also known as Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It is common for people to feel a burning sensation in their chest after a big meal or a glass of wine.

Millions of people worldwide deal with this uncomfortable issue, which can impact everything from our sleep to our favorite foods. Let’s understand more about the condition.

The esophagus is a muscular tube that connects our mouth to our stomach. Food we eat goes down through this tube and passes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to enter the stomach area. The LES acts as an entrance to our stomach and remains tightly shut after food passes through, preventing anything from flowing back up.

If the LES weakens or relaxes at the wrong time, stomach contents, including all digestive acid, splash back up into the esophagus. This acidic backwash irritates the delicate lining of the esophagus and causes a burning sensation we all know too well.

Heartburn, a common symptom of GERD, is experienced by more than 60 million Americans at least once a month (3). That’s a significant chunk of the population battling this discomfort.

Symptoms of GERD

  • Regurgitation: An unpleasant feeling of stomach contents creeping back into your mouth.
  • Sour Taste in the Mouth: Can also have a very sour taste in the mouth, which is discomforting.
  • Chest Pain: You can experience chest pain. This can mimic heart attack pain, so be sure to seek medical attention if it’s severe or persistent.
  • Trouble Swallowing: Your throat can become really dry, and the acids from your stomach can irritate the lining of your esophagus, eventually interfering with swallowing.
  • Nausea and Vomiting: These symptoms are less common but can occur.
  • Dry Cough: Regular occurrence of acid reflux leads to dry and persistent coughing.

I remember my uncle used to suffer from GERD, and initially, the symptoms were mild, but later they worsened. Fortunately, immediate medical attention helped to control the situation. Ignoring GERD isn’t a wise move. Over time, the condition can damage your esophagus, leading to complications.

The Link Between Menopause and Acid Reflux

Ever noticed your heartburn acting up more during your menopausal transition? There is a link between menopause and acid reflux that many are unaware of. The major cause is hormonal fluctuations.

Estrogen, the hormone associated with female reproductive organs, plays a vital role in digestion. As you know, during perimenopause, the years leading up to menopause, estrogen levels fluctuate wildly. This hormonal imbalance can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a valve that prevents stomach acid from refluxing. When this becomes weak due to a decline in estrogen levels, it can cause acid reflux in menopausal women.

A study published in the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine found that menopausal women were 2.9 times more likely to experience GERD symptoms compared to premenopausal women.

While estrogen is the major player, it’s not the only hormone that, when fluctuates, leads to a plethora of menopausal symptoms. Progesterone is another crucial hormone that plays a role. It might relax the LES, further contributing to reflux during the hormonal shifts of menopause.

Menopause can often increase stress, leading to various psychological changes and the release of stress hormones like cortisol. Cortisol can also worsen GERD symptoms.

It’s important to remember that hormones aren’t the only factor influencing GERD during menopause. Other factors that contribute are weight gain, slower digestion, and hiatal hernia.

One of my friends, after hitting menopause, suffered from acid reflux, which was affecting her daily routine. Instead of ignoring the problem, she did research to learn about the symptoms and causes. She incorporated some strategies to manage the symptoms and also sought medical attention. Now, she knows how to control the condition.

Managing Acid Reflux During Menopause

For most women, it gets extremely difficult to deal with menopause symptoms on a daily basis. Gastroesophageal reflux disease can further worsen the situation.

But don’t you worry! There are ways to help you manage acid reflux and the symptoms that come along with it. Find a combination of approaches that work best for you.

Lifestyle Modifications

  • Diet: Identify those foods that can trigger GERD. Spicy foods, fatty meals, citrus fruits, and even chocolates can be the culprits. Note down a list of food to know your personal triggers and limit or avoid them altogether.

    Smaller portions of food are digested more easily, putting less pressure on your stomach and LES. Aim for 5-6 smaller meals throughout the day instead of 3 large ones. Avoid eating large meals or rich foods within 3-4 hours of bedtime.

    A balanced diet and regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight. Excess abdominal fat can put pressure on your stomach, worsening reflux.
  • Other Changes: Use pillows to raise the head of your bed. This helps to keep stomach acid in its required place. Tight-fitting clothing around your waist can increase pressure on your abdomen and exacerbate reflux. Wear loose-fitting clothing that allows your stomach to breathe.

    Stress can worsen GERD symptoms. Explore relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing to manage stress levels. Smoking weakens the LES, and alcohol can irritate the esophagus (4). Consider quitting smoking altogether and limiting alcohol consumption.
  • Over-the-counter Relief: If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, consider over-the-counter medications for occasional heartburn relief. Antacids neutralize stomach acid, providing quick relief from mild heartburn. However, frequent use can cause side effects.

    H2 Blockers help reduce acid production in your stomach, offering longer-lasting relief.

    For persistent or severe GERD, your doctor might recommend prescription medications such as Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs). These are the strongest acid-reducing medications and are highly effective for managing GERD symptoms.

    However, long-term use can have potential side effects, so first discuss them with your doctor.
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): HRT, which involves replacing lost hormones like estrogen and progesterone, might be an option for some women experiencing both menopause symptoms and GERD.

HRT can help reduce reflux symptoms in some cases. However, HRT is not without risks, and it’s not suitable for everyone. Discuss the potential benefits and risks with your doctor to determine if it’s the right choice for you.

Don’t suffer in silence! If your GERD symptoms are severe, persistent, or accompanied by other concerning signs such as difficulty swallowing, weight loss, or bloody vomit, consult a healthcare professional for diagnosis and personalized treatment.

When to See a Doctor

While the tips and tricks discussed above can significantly improve your quality of life, there are times when seeking professional help is crucial. Learn when to draw the line and schedule that doctor’s appointment.

  • If your heartburn is severe, occurs more than twice a week, or wakes you up at night, ignoring it isn’t an option
  • Don’t hesitate to seek medical attention, especially if swallowing becomes progressively difficult
  • While weight loss can be a positive side effect of lifestyle changes, unexplained weight loss alongside GERD symptoms can be a sign of underlying issues
  • Bloody vomit or black stool are alarming signs of potential bleeding in your digestive tract. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience them
  • If you experience chest pain accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, or jaw pain, call emergency services immediately

FAQs

Is menopause guaranteed to cause acid reflux?

No, menopause doesn’t guarantee acid reflux. However, hormonal changes during menopause can weaken the valve, preventing stomach acid from flowing back up, which increases the risk of heartburn for some women.

What are some lifestyle changes that can help manage acid reflux during menopause?

Lifestyle changes, such as consuming smaller meals, avoiding triggering foods, maintaining a healthy weight, and practicing stress management techniques, can significantly improve GERD symptoms during menopause.

When should I see a doctor about my acid reflux?

Seek medical attention if your heartburn is severe or persistent, you experience difficulty swallowing, unexplained weight loss, bloody vomit, or chest pain mimicking a heart attack.

Conclusion

I hope this article provided you with the necessary information on GERD, the connection between menopause and acid reflux, and techniques for managing the condition.

Although it is a common health problem, it shouldn’t be neglected. Always incorporate the best ways to handle the concern and seek professional help.-

Author

  • Sabrina Johnson

    Meet Sabrina Johnson, a compassionate author and a seasoned expert in Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is a driving force behind Simply Menopause, where her extensive medical knowledge and empathetic nature come together to empower women in their menopausal journey. Sabrina offers culturally sensitive guidance and support through her approachable writing, making her a trusted friend on the path to menopause wellness.