For many people, heartburn can be a mild discomfort that bugs you during work or right after eating. However, if you’re a frequent smoker, your heartburn might feel much worse than the average person.
Acid reflux is the primary cause of heartburns, and smoking has long been associated with stomach issues, including the regurgitation of acid back into your throat. If you’re already prone to acid reflux before you began smoking, it’s probably a good idea to stop smoking as quickly as possible
In this post, we’ll dive into how smoking can cause heartburn and how to prevent it from happening after you’ve quit smoking.
How Does Heartburn Happen?
Let’s learn why heartburn occurs in both smokers and non-smokers.
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Heartburn occurs when stomach acid flows back into the oesophagus, the line connecting your throat to your stomach, and irritates the entire area. So, if you’re feeling a burning sensation in the chest, you’re probably experiencing heartburn.
The oesophagus lacks the protective lining that the stomach possesses, which explains why it’s severely affected by the corrosive effects of regurgitated stomach acid.
Smoking and Heartburn
Studies suggest that smoking directly correlates to frequent heartburn because of its impact on your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) – a muscular valve separating the stomach from the oesophagus.
Smoking has been associated with the relaxation of the LES and allows it to open more frequently and for longer durations. So, if you’re smoking and you feel heartburn sooner and more frequently after eating, you’ll want to stop smoking to help your LES recover.
The long-term exposure of the LES to stomach acid exacerbated by the irritants in cigarette smoke can cause esophagitis – the inflammation of your throat – which makes talking and eating difficult.
As esophagitis and the relaxation of the LES can lead to GERD, it can also lead to severe peptic ulcers, H. pylori growth, and liver problems.
Common Symptoms of Heartburn
As mentioned, heartburn can feel mildly irritating to severely discomforting. If you have heartburn, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Burning Sensation in the Chest: One of the hallmark symptoms of heartburn is a burning sensation or discomfort in the chest. This sensation is often described as a burning or warmth that can radiate upward from the stomach toward the throat.
- Acidic Taste in the Mouth: You might experience a sour or acidic taste in the mouth, which is a result of stomach acid flowing back into the oesophagus and even reaching the oral cavity.
- Regurgitation: Heartburn can lead to regurgitation, where the stomach contents, including acidic fluid, may flow back up into the throat. This can cause a bitter or sour taste and a sensation of fluid moving upward.
- Difficulty Swallowing: Heartburn may be accompanied by difficulty swallowing (known as dysphagia). The irritation caused by stomach acid in the oesophagus can make swallowing uncomfortable or painful.
- Chest Pain or Discomfort: While it is important to note that heartburn is not related to the heart, the discomfort it causes in the chest area can sometimes be mistaken for heart-related issues.
- Coughing and Hoarseness: Chronic heartburn can irritate the lining of the throat, leading to a persistent cough or hoarseness.
Role of Stomach Acid in Heartburn
Our stomach acid plays a key role in digesting food to supply the body with the nutrients and energy it needs. However, the human body can only keep these acids inside the protective lining of the stomach – it can be destructive if found anywhere else.
When LES relaxes inappropriately or weakens, stomach acid can flow back into the oesophagus more frequently, leading to heartburn.
Influence of Diet and Eating Habits on Heartburn
Certain foods can cause the LES to weaken and cause frequent bouts of heartburn by opening wider. For instance, spicy and acidic foods, like dishes rich in hot sauce or the frequent consumption of soda or citrus-based drinks, can irritate the LES.
However, it’s not just the type of dishes that can irritate your lower oesophagus. Having frequent large meals and lying down right after eating can also trigger heartburn. Other factors that can increase the frequency of heartburn are obesity and stress levels.
And of course, smoking right after eating can also irritate your LES.
What Happens When I Frequently Experience Heartburn?
If you’re frequently experiencing heartburn of increasing severity, you might have developed GERD or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
GERD is a chronic condition where the LES consistently allows acid to flow into the oesophagus as it has become weakened due to persistent irritation. While it might sound alarming, GERD can be cured in two ways.
The first process is through medication. Your GP can provide medication that eases the levels of stomach acid in your body, allowing your LES to recover from persistent irritation.
The second one involves surgery, which is suitable if your LES does not recover as expected even after lowering your stomach acid levels.
Of course, stopping smoking is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of LES irritation, esophagitis, and GERD.
How to Avoid Heartburn: Quit Smoking
Aside from having a healthy and mindful diet with only a small portion of it dedicated to soda, caffeine, citrus drinks and processed foods, stopping smoking is one of the best ways to avoid heartburn.
The many chemicals in cigarette smoke are primary causes of GERD and esophagitis. When you stop smoking, your LES can function properly and control the level of acid inside your stomach.
We know that quitting smoking can be extremely challenging, even if you’re already enduring frequent bouts of heartburn, but with motivation and the right information, you can join the ranks of many successful quitters.
Smokefree Clinic gives you access to many medically reviewed and trustworthy resources that can inform and aid you in your path to wellness, so have a look around!
If you’re ready to get started, Smokefree can connect you to friendly Australian healthcare professionals who excel in helping patients quit smoking for good.