11 Weird Signs You Have Acid Reflux That Aren't Just Heartburn
If you suffer from heartburn, you know how acid reflux can be no fun, but gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux, can also cause a number of symptoms. You might not even realize it, but you could be exhibiting some weird signs you have acid reflux. Acid reflux is common, but its symptoms aren't always as obvious, which makes it easy to mistake it for another health issue.
Over three million people a year get diagnosed with acid reflux, according to the Mayo Clinic, but lifestyle changes can often help with the issue. "Lifestyle factors are to blame for most cases of acid reflux," Brunilda Nazario, M.D., board-certified internist, endocrinologist and associate medical director at WebMD, tells Bustle. "When heartburn happens [...] smoking, alcohol, or foods cause a valve-like stomach muscle to loosen, allowing stomach acid to backwash into the esophagus. This exposes sensitive tissue in the chest to stomach acids, causing painful symptoms."
Left untreated, acid reflux can cause bigger issues such as an increased risk of esophagus cancer, according to the American Cancer Society — though they note that if you have GERD, it doesn't guarantee that you will develop this type of cancer. Still, it's important to keep your GERD at bay.
Here are 11 weird signs that you might have acid reflux.
1. Excessive Salivation
If you notice your mouth salivating a lot more than usual, it could be acid reflux. When you have acid reflux, stomach acid can get into your throat, making you salivate more, according to Harvard Health. "Salivating excessively is a relatively unusual symptom in which people can foam at the mouth, secreting as much as two teaspoons of saliva per minute in response to stomach acid irritating the esophagus," Rachel Carlton Abrams, MD, tells Bustle. If you feel that you are salivating excessively but don’t think it’s a sign of acid reflux, make an appointment with your doctor to see if this is a symptom of another health issue including an allergic reaction, an infection, or sleep apnea, according to Penn Medicine.
2. Radiating Pressure
Many people often mistake acid reflux for a heart attack, and that is because it can cause extreme and painful pressure in the chest that radiates to other body parts. "This is caused by the stomach acid irritating the esophagus and the pain radiating to arms, neck, or back," Carlton says. A quick way to combat this symptom of radiating pressure is to remain in straight positions either sitting or standing, rather than slouching over or laying down which can exacerbate pain, according to Harvard Health. This is also another indicator that the pain is because of acid reflux over a cardiac issues, as cardiac pain doesn’t subside even when you shift or straighten your position.
Though headaches, mild or extreme, can be indicative of a number of different health issues, many people who suffer from GERD get frequent migraines or headaches, "Acid reflux may make some patients feel pain in their head or sinuses, either chronically or with sudden shooting pains," Dr. Shawn Tsuda, tells Bustle. If you find yourself often having headaches but not many other symptoms of acid reflux, it is most likely the case that the headache may be linked to another issue. Either way, it’s important that you ask a doctor or physician about where the issue might be stemming from and how to handle it.
4. Chronic Cough
“People with a decreased stomach acid are not able to digest their food and it sits in the stomach longer, causing upset, fermentation of carbohydrates, and possible regurgitating what little acid is there up through the esophagus causing reflux,” Dr. Kevin Conners, D.PSc., tells Bustle. This regurgitation usually causes a cough. A cough caused by acid reflux often occurs at night, while lying down, or without post-nasal drip. And sometimes, GERD leads to a chronic cough, which is a cough that lasts for at least eight weeks and become so severe that it sometimes even leads to vomiting or rib fractures.
5. A Hoarse Voice
"Acid reflux can get into the vocal cords, causing chronic inflammation," Tsuda says. Reflux laryngitis, as it's known, can cause chronic hoarseness and affect your speaking or singing. Oftentimes when this happens, people try to battle the hoarse voice by constantly clearing their throats. But this can actually damage the throat more and make the problem worse. Although the best cure for the hoarse voice in this case is to heal the acid reflux, a temporary fix can be to drink plenty of liquids to avoid a dry throat and to avoid overusing your voice.
6. Difficulty Swallowing
Acid reflux often causes dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, according to the Mayo Clinic. "Chronic acid reflux can cause narrowing of your esophagus, making swallowing of both liquids and solids difficult," Tsuda says. This is because the chronic acid reflux creates the sensation that something is blocking your throat. Though this is most often merely an uncomfortable symptom, dysphagia can sometimes lead to more serious issues like regurgitation, or vomiting. If any of these more serious issues occur, you should see your doctor immediately.
7. Bad Breath
If you brush your teeth every day and still find that you've got some stinky breath, your acid reflux may be the root of your problem. Just as with many of the symptoms of acid reflux, bad breath is caused by the movement of stomach contents into the esophagus, according to the Mayo Clinic. Since many people with GERD don't efficiently digest food in the stomach, it can start to decay there and contribute to bad breath, according to a study conducted by the University of Greifswald. Other people might actually regurgitate small amounts of undigested food, which can lead to a more persistent unwanted odor.
8. Breathing Issues
If you have asthma, there's a higher likelihood you could get acid reflux, as coughing or wheezing from an asthma attack can cause the valve-like muscle to temporarily malfunction and loosen. "The reverse can happen as well," Nazario says. "Acid reflux can irritate the bronchi and trigger breathing problems like asthma.” Other times, breathing issues because of acid reflux can stem from stomach acid contents entering the lungs during sleep, a study conducted by Gajanan S. Gaude, professor and head of the Department of Pulmonary Medicine at J.N. Medical College, says. In either of these cases, doctors will occasionally test your acid reflux to determine if your asthma is the cause, or vice versa.
9. Nighttime Choking
Many people experience heartburn symptoms at night, and they can be quite unpleasant and disruptive. Not so far off from the symptom of coughing, the symptom of nighttime choking can occur because of the back-flow of stomach acid that especially occurs while laying down. "For some people, attacks of choking and retching about an hour after going to bed may signal acid reflux," Nazario says. "Avoid late-night eating and drinking to help reduce these symptoms." You can also use your pillows to help you sleep at an incline and further avoid the movement of stomach acid that causes choking, according to a study conducted by Dr. Joel E. Richter, MD.
Many of the same things that contribute to gas also cause acid reflux, which means you may feel the urge to burp more than usual. This is because people with GERD tend to unconsciously force excessive air down their esophagus, according to the Mayo Clinic. Although some people think belching can relieve acid reflux, it can actually make it worse. Although exercising a little after meals or eating more slowly can help with the immediate effects of gas caused by acid reflux, your best bet to stop burping is to directly treat your GERD.
11. Sore Throat
If you feel like you have a chronically-sore throat, acid reflux could be to blame. "The almost constant perception of a lump in the throat (irrespective of swallowing), has been related to GERD in some studies," Carlton says. "However, you can have a sensation of a lump in the throat for other reasons, including anxiety or a hyper-reactive upper esophageal sphincter rather than reflux." All of the previous symptoms discussed — coughing, burping, choking, difficulty swallowing — can lead to throat pain, especially when done constantly. But if you’re only experiencing a sore throat on its own, it’s most likely that it’s being caused by something other than acid reflux. Either way, it’s important to ask your doctor about what you can do to feel better.
Acid reflux can be a painful problem to deal with that can result in long-term issues if not taken care of. Even though these symptoms are usually indicative of acid reflux or heartburn, you should always consult your doctor to see if these problems might be telling of other health difficulties you might be facing. And if you are experiencing acid reflux, know that there are easy ways to handle or cure it. Because with everything else you have to deal with, you don’t want to add gas to the list.
This post was originally published on January 24, 2017. It was updated on June 13, 2019. Additional reporting by Syeda Saad.