Cause-and-effect relationships link acid reflux and bloating, with each condition potentially leading to the other. Pressure from bloating can cause stomach acid to rise into the esophagus, triggering acid reflux. On the other hand, rising acid triggers a swallowing reflex, often drawing air into the stomach. As a result, these conditions often occur together.
Acid reflux, also known as heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a condition in which the stomach’s liquid contents rise into the esophagus. The acid content of this liquid is responsible for the burning sensation. A muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is responsible for preventing acid reflux.
When pressure in the stomach rises, whether through overeating or bloating, pressure on the LES increases. With sufficient pressure, small amounts of liquid can squeeze through the LES into the esophagus. Acid reflux and bloating often occur together in this way.
Bloating is a condition in which gasses become trapped in the stomach. When eating, air is swallowed along with food. More air is ingested when food is eaten quickly. Gasses also are produced during digestion, and some foods such as carbonated drinks contain large quantities of gas. Normally, these gasses are not present in sufficient levels to cause discomfort, but when large amounts of gas become trapped, the stomach can become distended and bloated.
During an attack of acid reflux, the body responds by swallowing to push the fluid back into the stomach. Air also is swallowed during this process. It is possible for frequent swallowing from acid reflux to fill the stomach with air and cause bloating.
High levels of stomach acid often are blamed for bloating and acid reflux, but more often, the opposite is true, with large quantities of liquids taken during meals diluting the stomach acids. Insufficient levels of acid in the stomach slow the digestion process. Fatty foods also are known to slow digestion. Solid and liquid foods are unable to move into the intestines. Digestion still produces gasses though, and the gasses raise pressure in the stomach, causing bloating.
Some foods produce larger quantities of gas. Acid reflux and bloating are more likely to occur when one is eating cabbage, Brussels sprouts, baked beans, carbonated drinks or fruits such as apples, peaches and pears. Chewing gum and smoking both cause more air to be swallowed and make bloating more likely as well.
Medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance or celiac disease also might disrupt normal digestion, causing acid reflux and bloating. Pressure on the stomach and LES often is responsible for acid reflux, and bloating will add to the pressure created by obesity. Infection or disease also might be responsible for some interruptions in normal digestion. For chronic cases, medical attention is advised.