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  Can Heartburn Cause Shortness of Breath?

Since many individuals experience shortness of breath and wonder if it is caused by heartburn, I have decided to give this a deeper look. I warn you now that this might be a longer article than most as I really feel that it is important to go over any of the causes or triggers which might be linked or related to the symptom itself.

Since heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux I felt that it was important to start there. Reflux is caused by either too much or not enough acid production within the stomach. Both can create digestion problems as the stomach environment becomes unbalanced. This might also coincide with a weak LES (contracting muscle) or a hiatal (muscle tissue which separates your stomach from your chest.) This might seem a bit confusing but your stomach contains two sphincters which work in unison in order to allow the food to travel down into the stomach, and also keep it there.

acid reflux As people age, or simply due to other reasons (coughing bouts, hard punches to abdomen, improper lifting, bad posture, tight clothes etc.) the opening (hiatus) below the esophagus enlarges. This lets the upper portion of the stomach to move upwards and this rise is labeled as a hiatal hernia. "Hernia" derived from "herniates" is the upward movement of the stomach and thus we are left with "Hiatal Hernia".

Some specialists believe that improper lifting techniques are the highest risk for this specific condition. As the person attempts the lift and is used to breathing through the stomach, the air is forced out through the hiatal and stretches it.

Often, a hiatal hernia will either contribute or cause the gastroesophageal reflux to occur.

Types of Hiatal Hernia:

  • Fixed Hiatus Hernia - upper portion of the stomach is stuck in the chest area, often causes symptoms. 
  • Sliding Hiatus Hernia - very common, the stomach parts slides back and forth, causes little symptoms. 
  • Serious or Complicated Hiatus Hernia - uncommon, in some cases the entire stomach travels up into the chest area and this requires surgery. 

Symptoms and Signs of Hiatal Hernia:

  • Ability to cause heartburn 
  • Strong chest pain 
  • Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) 
  • An obstruction within the esophagus 


As you can see, hiatal hernia may cause an obstruction within the LES as well as cause heartburn. This may explain why people with heartburn have problems catching their breath. There are some studies pointing towards the fact that this may eventually cause asthma as well.

Another thing that might occur is that the stress or pain of the heartburn itself sets of anxiety or a panic attack. These are very common as well, and one of their symptoms is shortness of breath. They are usually accompanied by sweaty palms and thoughts of impending doom.

What Can Be Done?

  • Relax (I know... easier to said than done) 
  • Take a slow and deep breath into your chest area, breathing through the nose 
  • Hold a couple seconds 
  • Let it out very slowly through the lips 
  • Do this ten times (has worked wonders for many as after that amount of time and slow breathing your body has a hard time staying tense) 

Switch Medication

Many sufferers of heartburn are either self medicating or taking prescription pills. Often these will also come with symptoms so do not hide those facts from your doctor. If you are self medicating, I recommend getting the proper tests done and finding out what is really going on within your body.