The Heartburn -Tobacco Connection

While you’ve probably already heard that quitting smoking can reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, and lung disease, there may be a more immediate effect of giving up tobacco. Tobacco of any kind, including cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, and snuff, can cause heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). What does tobacco have to do with heartburn?

Heartburn is caused by stomach acid flowing back up into the esophagus, usually because of a malfunctioning lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Tobacco use can cause or worsen this acid reflux in a number of ways, including:

  • Impairing the function of the LES. The nicotine in tobacco can lower the pressure in the lower esophageal sphincter, which could allow stomach acids and enzymes to flow back into the esophagus.
  • Increasing acidity. Nicotine increases acid production, which increases the chance of acid reflux.
  • Harming the esophagus. Tobacco smoke seems to directly irritate the esophagus lining, which may worsen the pain associated with acid reflux.
  • Reducing saliva production. Saliva helps push acid down into the stomach when you swallow, and less saliva can interfere with this process. Saliva also contains a bicarbonate that acts as a mild acid neutralizer.

While only the effects of tobacco from smoking cigarettes on GERD have been studied, many experts believe that any tobacco use can worsen the symptoms of GERD. Quitting tobacco use could have an immediate effect on the symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux.

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