The relationship between stress and symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux: the influence of psychological factors

Am J Gastroenterol. 1993 Jan;88(1):11-9.


This paper describes the first controlled study of the relationships among stress, psychological traits associated with chronic anxiety, acid reflux parameters, and perceptions of reflux symptoms. Seventeen subjects with symptomatic reflux disease were studied using a 2 (high vs. low gastrointestinal susceptibility score) x 2 (stress vs. neutral tasks) x 3 (periods 1, 2, or 3) experimental design. It was found that the stress tasks produced significant increases in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, pulse rates, and subjective ratings of anxiety and reflux symptoms. The stress tasks, however, did not influence objective parameters of acid reflux (total acid exposure, number of reflux episodes, duration of longest reflux episode). Moreover, the effect of stress on reflux ratings was due primarily to the responses of the subjects with high gastrointestinal susceptibility scale scores. These subjects' reflux ratings remained at high levels during all stress periods, whereas subjects in all other experimental conditions reported decreased reflux symptoms across periods. These results suggest that reflux patients who are chronically anxious and exposed to prolonged stress may perceive low intensity esophageal stimuli as painful reflux symptoms. Future effort should be devoted to examining the efficacy of anxiolytic and behavioral therapies with these reflux patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / etiology
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / physiopathology
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pulse / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*