Heartburn, or acid reflux, is that troublesome burning sensation in your chest due to rising gastric acid.

When you experience this condition on a chronic basis, it’s possible that you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). If you smoke, you may be increasing the risk that you’ll develop GERD.

GERD isn’t just a painful nuisance. It’s also the chief risk factor for esophageal adenocarcinoma, a cancer type. If you’re looking for a reason to quit smoking and treat your GERD, keep reading to find out more.

From tobacco to cannabis, there are a lot of ways and substances that people smoke. Here’s a rundown of some of the major types and their potential effects on acid reflux.

Doctors have proposed a few potential reasons why people who smoke report a higher incidence of heartburn or acid reflux.

  • Smoking reduces lower esophageal sphincter (LES) pressure. The LES is the protective closure that keeps acid in the stomach and out of your esophagus. When the LES pressure is reduced, the acid can more easily creep up and cause heartburn.
  • Smoking tobacco reduces the amount of bicarbonate present in the saliva. Bicarbonate is an acid-neutralizing compound.
  • Smoking can increase levels of inflammation in the body. Doctors have connected increased levels of inflammation with greater risks for GERD as well as Barrett’s esophagus, a condition that can lead to esophageal cancer.

There isn’t a lot of research that points to cannabis as a GERD or acid reflux cause. However, some animal studies have found that cannabis use has some positive effects in regards to reducing acid reflux, including reduced gastric acid secretion.

Cannabis can also be used to increase appetite and calm the stomach, but this isn’t to say those who smoke or use cannabis have no stomach problems. Some people who smoke cannabis experience an uncommon condition called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, which causes severe vomiting.

Because vaping is fairly new, there isn’t as much research on its effects related to GERD.

However, there is a smaller study from Indonesia that found a positive correlation between vaping and regurgitation, but a negative correlation to GERD.

While there isn’t very much research about waterpipe smoking and GERD, one study found that women who smoke a waterpipe were more likely to have GERD. The study’s authors didn’t find a connection between men who smoked a waterpipe and increased GERD risk.

The authors theorized this is because women tend to smoke a waterpipe in greater numbers compared to men. However, they weren’t able to determine an exact reason why women experienced GERD related to smoking more than men.

There’s a few rumors out on the Internet that quitting smoking can actually make GERD worse instead of better, but as we’ve discussed, this isn’t the case.

One study of 141 former smokers found that 43.9 percent reported less GERD 1 year after quitting. For the control group of smokers who didn’t quit, the acid reflux symptoms didn’t improve over time. The researchers recommended that patients with significant GERD quit smoking as a way to reduce their symptoms.

If the onset of your GERD symptoms has coincided with quitting smoking, it likely has a different cause that you should investigate with your doctor.

While quitting smoking should help you reduce your acid reflux symptoms, there are other treatments and home remedies that can help as well. These include the following tips:

  • Avoid foods known to worsen your symptoms, such as alcohol, coffee, chocolate, fatty foods, mint, or spicy foods.
  • Take steps to exercise and manage your weight.
  • Take medications to reduce your symptoms. These include antacids, H2 blockers (like cimetidine or famotidine), and proton pump inhibitors (like lansoprazole and omeprazole).
  • Elevate your head after you eat (or elevating the head of your bed when sleeping). This keeps acid from going upward.
  • Stop eating at least 3 hours before you go to bed.

If your GERD persists, talk with your doctor. You may need different treatments to reduce your symptoms.

Getting help

If you smoke, one of the ways you can relieve heartburn is to quit. Understandably, this can be difficult, but you don’t have to go it alone. Here are some steps you can take to get started:

  • Calling a quitline. If you call 1-800-QUIT-NOW, you can speak to a person specially trained in helping you quit smoking.
  • Consider using medications to help you quit. You can purchase over-the-counter nicotine replacements or see your doctor about prescription quit-smoking medications (this is especially helpful if you have tried to quit in the past and relapsed).
  • Create a quit plan. This should include the date you’re going to quit, methods you’ll use, who you’ll call if you’re tempted to relapse, and telling friends and family who can support you.
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Smoking tobacco likely worsens your acid reflux symptoms and GERD. Keeping this in mind, it’s a good reason to quit. In addition to stopping smoking, making dietary changes and managing weight can also help reduce painful acid reflux symptoms.

Your doctor can help you create a smoking cessation plan and reduce acid reflux symptoms.