While heartburn, chest pain, bitter taste in the mouth and difficulty swallowing are the usual symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease, many people suffering from GERD also report migraines or splitting headaches. Their headache bouts often get worse when they are also experiencing heartburn.
A large questionnaire-based, cross-sectional study that assessed more than 43,000 patients found a higher prevalence of headache in individuals with acid reflux and other digestive complaints.
The study, which was published in an international journal of headache, concluded that a higher headache frequency was associated with a greater risk of gastrointestinal problems.
Why should a digestive ailment cause pain at the other end of the body? Let’s understand the connection.
Related article: https://www.sepalika.com/gerd/surprising-facts-acid-reflux/
POTS: Does It Explain the Connection?
POTS, or Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, is an autonomic condition in which too little blood returns to the heart while moving from a lying down to a standing up position.
One of the complications of this condition is an increased susceptibility to gastrointestinal problems like GERD. So, if you have POTS, you will likely suffer from GERD and you will also have headaches that worsen when you are in the midst of an acid reflux bout.
POTS affects both men and women equally and is seen between the ages of 15 to 50, often immediately after a trauma, a major surgery or viral infection. However, every person who suffers from GERD, and also has headaches might not necessarily be a victim of POTS.
Can Bad Digestion Lead To Headaches?
If you’re not suffering from POTS, there is another possible explanation for headaches. When you suffer from GERD, your stomach’s acidity is usually low. In a stomach with low acidity, digestion does not occur efficiently.
Related article: https://www.sepalika.com/gerd/know-affects-stomach-acid-production/
This is because organisms like H. pylori have overgrown in an environment where there shouldn’t be any bacteria (after all, who can grow and thrive in a bottle of concentrated hydrochloric acid?!). These bacteria ferment (rot) the food that should be digested and cause formation of large amounts of noxious gases. These gases increase pressure within the stomach and cause bloating. They also put pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) and force it to open upwards, thereby spilling acidic stomach contents inside the esophagus, causing heartburn. The LES is a muscular valve that guards the entrance of the esophagus into the stomach. It allows swallowed food to enter the stomach but, under normal circumstances, does not allow backflow of stomach contents.
These noxious gases permeate the fluids and sinuses, and enter our brain and expand. Expansion of these gases puts pressure on the walls of the brain causing headaches. These bouts of headaches persist until these gases are removed by normal bodily processes. This also explains why headaches worsen when acid reflux is in progress.
Taking a Pill for Your Headache Will Not Address the Root Cause!
The most common instinct would be to pop a pill for the headache.
Unfortunately, common pain-relief medicines like aspirin and NSAIDs can make your GERD worse. So the only way you can find relief is to treat the cause of the headaches (if it is acid reflux.)
GERD is more often a problem caused by low stomach acid. Low stomach acidity makes the stomach an easy target for colonization by harmful bacteria like H. pylori. H. pylori growth is known to cause GERD as well as ulcers. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) can also cause or worsen an existing, GERD. Eliminating H. pylori and SIBO and correcting the imbalance in the gut microflora (beneficial bacteria) is the first step towards total relief from GERD.
Regulating acid production through diet and lifestyle changes and keeping stress in check are important factors in treating GERD. A healthy gut is your gateway to lasting health and wellness. Keeping your digestion healthy goes a long way in keeping your body hale and hearty.