GERD/Reflux = Panic Attacks?

So in November of 2015, I had my first panic attack. It scared me, to say the least. Three doctors later and a good therapist later, I was doing much better. The doctor at the Med Center I went to in November said that I had acid reflux and that is what caused my panic attack. I am still dumbfounded by this assertion but I have tried to accept it. Even with acceptance, I seemed to have developed this nasty case of GERD/Reflux beginning in January that is very noticeable with extreme belching. I sometimes get nasty pains in my stomach and in my lower bowels. It's annoying and it messes me with me but I try to just focus on the positive and use some techniques I learned in therapy to get through it.

After my first panic attack, I ended up in the ER 3 more times because of panic attacks. I did not have heartburn at the time but I would get the same sensations of my chest and arm hurting and radiating up in my jaw. Each time, did the whole blood work up and EKG, and I was fine.

I made some big lifestyle changes to help with my anxiety.

I started working out again and I have been successful in losing some weight. I need to lose about 10 more pounds but I am down about 25 pounds total since November. I do get some anxiety about working out. The panic attacks brought out some terrible health anxiety related to my cardiovascular system. I think that train of thoughts come from the fact I thought i was having heart attacks when I was having panic attacks so I am worried about having a heart attack. I am 32 and my doctors way that I am totally fine, which is helpful but not completely.

I was taking pepcid AC and my doctor told me to try Prilosec. This seemed to help but I finished the 14 day dose so I didn't want to go past that before seeing my doctor. I have a GI appt scheduled for April 2nd.

In any event, I went to a BBQ fest yesterday and had one pork sandwhich and a beer. Beer and liquor do not seem to affect me in regards to reflux. I drink socially once or twice a week. No more than 4 drinks at a time. I eat very healthy and I watch acidic foods and do my best not to compound my alcohol use with fried foods and other stuff like garlic and tomatoes that give me heartburn. But none the less I think I made a mistake in my lunch choice.,

So last night at about 12:20 a.m. , I woke up and my eyes were blurry and my heart was racing and I was trembling in my arms and legs. I did feel some heartburn when I went to bed but nothing that was debilitating. I got out of bed and woke up my wife because this hasn't happened in some time. I kept thinking my one pupil was bigger than the other. They both were quite dilated and my heart rate was like 130 when it is usually in the high 60's to to mid 70's.

I wasn't stressed at all on Saturday. I had some face tingles and stuff like that, that i have become accustomed to with this anxiety situation I have, which sometimes does flip me out a little bit but I try to stay calm. Therefore, I was shocked when I seemed to have another panic attack last night after a nice day out with my friends.

My question to this forum is, Has this happened to anyone else and did you ever get a diagnosis? To expound on my question, is it possible to have reflux trigger a panic attack or anxiety attack like that? I was able to calm myself down and I got some sleep but it freaked me out. I had been doing so well and this is really the first episode I have had in over a month.

In addition, my therapist who is a PH.D in psychology and specializes in CBT doesn't want to label me. I haven't quite figured this out yet but I have read so much that Generalized Anxiety Disorder and GERD/Reflux are strong bed fellows. I mean at 32 you try to figure out who you are and this panic attack situation is just bizarre because I never had one in 32 years prior to this. I never had reflux, I never had panic. My primary doctor things I have a panic disorder. He tried pills (zoloft and prozac) but they made my mental state worse. Zoloft made me feel so high that I sat and ate a bag of grapes. Like a whole bag of grapes and Prozac made me contemplate all sorts of things I do not want to thing about ever again.

I am trying to stay positive but waking up terrified isn't funny especially with a five year old daughter and a pregnant wife.

Any insight would be greatly appreciated. Thank you again!

4 Replies

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  • Has anyone ever checked your B12 levels?

    This is link to a list of symptoms of B12deficiency

    pernicious-anaemia-society....

    if it rings lots of bells then I'd ask your GP to check it out but don't take 'normal range' as definitivie - it is well known that a lot of people can show signs of deficiency even though their levels seem to be normal (just demonstrates how much human beings vary). In UK BCSH recommends treating on basis of symptoms not test results and there is also this alert out on going just by test results

    ukneqas-haematinics.org.uk/...

  • Hello, yes panic disorders and reflux are wonderful bed fellows. Unfortunately you then start treading the hamster wheel.

    If I was you I would change my diet for a short while, say, three months. Boring I know but stay off of alcohol and try a low fat diet - keep yourself hydrated with water, little coffee and tea (caffeine).

    I think there are low fat diets you can follow on the web, oh and also try eating little and often. About five meals a day instead of 3. This can help your body to digest more easily. Do you lead a hectic life, grabbing meals on the run? have your last meal no later than 7 at night.

    If you are feeling pain in the upper right quadrant in your stomach then this might be gallbladder problems so changing your diet for a couple of months may point you in the right direction.

    You also said that you have a five year old daughter and a pregnant wife. Are you anxious here? It is a great responsibility for you as the partner to do the best you can for them all but try to relax. Are you able to go out for the day as a family and have a fun time, laugh, joke, do stupid things. Go with the flow. Most of all laugh it helps a lot..

    I also suffer from extreme panic disorder and, digestion issues as yourself. I found following what I mentioned to you above helped with my digestion and also I wasn't comfort eating which included those nasty cream cakes etc.

    Anyway, you are seeing a therapist which is great and following a good diet should get your tummy back into shape.

    And congratulations on the forthcoming baby. Believe me you'll get there.

    Best regards

  • Well I'm pretty sure you have health anxiety related to your cardiovascular system. Because I read this and think of myself as this is exactly what I have. My first panic attack kicked off the whole "my heart is on it's way out" thought process and mine occurred after some traumatic experience. I remember being with my doctor and saying " are you sure my arteries are not clogged?" I mean the list of anxiety sensations and symptoms are endless. A great line I heard once was "an idle mind is the devils playground" very true words these are too. There are many forms of anxiety each with it's own story but the issue with health anxiety is one of self preservation! A human instinct built into us through history. We don't want to die we need to everything in our power to stay alive. This is what gets us worked up when the anxious thoughts in our mind turn to what we think is a reality, which isn't the case of course. The issue is also about confidence or lack of it in my case with my heart. Any kind of chest sensation would get me thinking "ohh shit" "Hold on" etc etc... I take omeprozole for my reflux and it is a god send for me. Mindfulness before bed is an amazing relaxation technique I have used in the past. It takes practice but might be worth giving it a go. And above all, and I'm sure you are by reading this post, be open about your feelings of fear/panic. As men we tend to hold them close. Which is somewhat self destructive. Be positive, at 32 and training again you are fine. I would sit in a chair sometimes and get chest pain out of nowhere then on the evening I would go and play half hour of football and my chest would be fine. My Dr said "if your heart was going to have an issue it would be while running around not sat relaxed" Very wise words really. Of course people die sat in front their TV's when they are 85 for example. How many 32 y/o has that happened to. Keep us posted.

  • Hi Pat,

    I hope you're well and managed to get on top of this! From what you were saying, it sounds like the cardiovascular concerns triggered a bout of worrying about your health and your own mortality. I can relate to that just now. There were also clues in what you were saying, "when you're 32 you're trying to figure your life out" and maybe there was a certain pressure of family responsibility weighing down on you? I know these things all too well. I've just turned 30 and it's all a bit of a whirlwind. My boyfriend has loads of job opportunities opening up to him and I've had to change career since my last one didn't work out. So I'm in an unfamiliar field I didn't necessarily want to be in, and wairing to hear news about qhere my boyfriend might go and i would potentially move with him. Weve both gone from being stuck in a rut to the world being a busy place and ive found it quite overwhelming after 2 years of mild depression and stasis, for it all to explode overnight. I was on antibiotics and due to how manic my life was till I slowed down, I foolishly had them on an empty stomach which, in my doctor and nurse's words, triggered gastritis. They said it was mild and nothing to worry about but it felt like absolute hell and intermittently still does. There was a week where I just felt like I was going to be sick the whole time. It then developed into a chronic cough and odd, disconcerting tickle near my chest area which felt like a cardiovascular issue. And I had trouble swallowing and in my upper throat. It feels like pressure there sometimes. It all got on top of me and I had just recovered from a smear test related health scare, and since then I panic at everything!

    I just woke up there feeling sick and panicked despite being relaxed prior to a snooze. I went to bed early and felt great. I think for all of us there's a few things at play and it's a vicious circle. I am panicking qhen I feel nauseous because I want these symptoms to go away, and when thry don't I start to wonder if I'm seriously ill and my doc has missed something (he says I'm fine because I don't vomit and have very common symptoms). At the moment I feel like I need a very calm environment or things set me off. Like waking up feeling sick today will make my day at work raddled with anxiety so I need to get on top of it. I don't know what the answer is. I'm doing CBT for health anxiety and it's helping a bit. I'm researching GERD and realise when I overdo it. I ate a lot yesterday and it was mostly dairy so these are triggers for me. I talk to my friends and family about it and tell them that I need peace and recovery time just now. Prior to this I did community work and powered on, but never got good lunch breaks, had a very erratic life pattern and frequent headache and stomach issues. I know when it's happening to you it feels very scary but I think these things are linked to past stress - at least I can ascertain they are for me - and what we're left with is figuring them out and managing them till they become less of a monster!

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