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Does Weightlifting Cause GERD Symptoms?

by
author image Linda Ray
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."
Does Weightlifting Cause GERD Symptoms?
Weight lifter sitting on bench leaning on weight bar Photo Credit InnerVisionPRO/iStock/Getty Images

GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a chronic digestive disorder that occurs when acid backs up from your stomach to the esophagus. Bile backs up and causes heartburn and acid reflux. While many people experience heartburn occasionally, when it happens to you more than twice a week, you probably have GERD. While some foods and activities can exacerbate the condition, the pressure that lifting weights puts on your abdominal muscles is an important factor when evaluating your symptoms.

Symptoms

You should see a doctor whenever you have severe or new chest pains, even though the cause may be gastroesophageal reflux disease. Chest pains resulting from GERD usually begin with a burning sensation that seems to originate in the chest and runs up your throat, leaving a sour taste in your mouth. Other symptoms you might notice include hoarseness or coughing, a sore throat or difficulty swallowing. If these symptoms appear during or shortly after lifting weights, don't assume that weightlifting is the sole cause of your condition. Left untreated, GERD can lead to ulcers or scars on your esophagus.

Basics

The sphincter is a muscle that works like a valve to regulate the flow of acid into and out of your stomach. It is only supposed to open when you swallow. Oftentimes, when you bend over to lift a heavy weight, you apply pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter and cause it to open up and release acid that in turn has nowhere to go but up through your throat. The sphincter muscle also is disrupted by excessive weight you may carry around your abdomen and when you lie down too soon after eating.

Complications

A hiatal hernia occurs when a piece of your stomach protrudes through the muscle wall that separates the stomach from your chest cavity. Side effects associated with a hiatal hernia include gastroesophageal reflux disease. While some people are born with the condition, a leading cause of hiatal hernias is weightlifting. The straining of lifting the heavy weights puts pressure on your stomach and forces the opening. Continuous straining can cause the GERD, or a sudden, extreme lift could bring on the symptoms. While a hiatal hernia and GERD often are caused by lifting weights, you could have a hiatal hernia and experience no gastrointestinal symptoms at all for years.

Workout Rules

If you experience GERD symptoms after eating, wait at least an hour before going to the gym or lifting weights, to prevent the discomfort. Dress in loose-fitting clothes. Tight shirts, belts and cinched waistbands restrict the lower stomach and actually could push the acid up through your esophagus. Avoid the foods that commonly cause you heartburn and reflux, especially on days you'll be working out. Common culprits include garlic, onions, caffeine, and fried and fatty foods.

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