Another Good Reason to Quit SmokingHow Lighting Up Makes the Burn Worse
-- By Melinda Hershey, Health Educator
There are a lot of really good reasons to quit smoking: lung cancer, bad breath, decreased sense of smell and taste, and yellowed teeth and nails, to name a few. But if you are a smoker living with chronic heartburn, quitting smoking can have an added benefit of reducing your heartburn symptoms.
Smoking affects heartburn in several different ways:
- Studies show that nicotine in tobacco can reduce the pressure within the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which connects the esophagus and stomach. This allows stomach acid to wash back up into the esophagus, causing heartburn.
- Smoking increases acid production in the stomach, increasing reflux flares. Cigarette smoke also makes stomach acid more potent by transferring bile salts into the stomach from the intestines.
- Smoking reduces saliva production. Since saliva helps with neutralizing stomach acid, this could significantly worsen heartburn symptoms.
- Cigarette smoke can irritate and damage the lining of the esophagus, which then reduces protection against stomach acid.
- Smoking can cause emphysema, which also happens to be a risk factor for GERD.
Also note that if you tend to smoke and drink together, this may exacerbate heartburn symptoms even more, as alcohol can further weaken the LES.
So, will quitting smoking help your heartburn symptoms? There are many factors that contribute to heartburn, so cutting back on tobacco alone might not be a definite cure-all if you have other heartburn risk factors. But chances are good that it can reduce your heartburn symptoms, along with your risk for certain cancers and other lung conditions. If you do decide to quit, here are some good ways to start:
- Sit down with your doctor to come up with a plan that works for you, which may or may not include nicotine patches or other quit aids.
- Replace smoking with a different habit, such as chewing gum or holding a small object between your fingers.
- If smoking goes hand-in-hand with certain other activities (like having a cigarette with your morning cup of coffee), try to avoid that activity or replace the act of smoking with a different, healthier habit.
- Get support from your family and friends and have them keep you accountable.
- You don't have to quit "cold turkey," but try to set a firm quit date to give yourself something to shoot for and help you stay on track.
- Give yourself incentives for quitting. For example, for every day you go without smoking a cigarette, put one dollar in a "quit jar." At the end of a predetermined amount of time, buy yourself something as a reward for putting your health first!
- Get the help you need. Quitting smoking can be a deceptively difficult task, so make sure you arm yourself with the resources you need to be successful. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW, or check out smokefree.gov for more information.
- Stay positive! Over half of all adult smokers have quit smoking, and you can be one of those statistics, too!
What are you waiting for? Get on track to quit today for a heartburn-free tomorrow!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Smoking & Tobacco Use: Quit Tips," accessed April 2013. www.cdc.gov.
Everyday Health. "Smoking Can Lead to GERD," accessed April 2013. www.everydayhealth.com.
National Institutes of Health. ''Mechanisms of acid reflux associated with cigarette smoking,'' accessed April 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
The New York Times. "GERD In-Depth Report," accessed April 2013. http://health.nytimes.com.