Progesterone May Cause Heartburn Symptoms to Worsen

05. 14. 2018

Progesterone is one of the primary hormones produced by the female reproductive system. It functions to regulate the monthly menstrual cycle, influence mood and sexual desire, and prepare and maintain a pregnancy. 

Progesterone and Menopause

Throughout premenopause (until approximately age 45), progesterone levels fluctuate as the ovaries slow down. Between the ages of about 45 and 50, women enter perimenopause and their progesterone levels decline. Lack of progesterone can cause periods to become irregular, heavier, and longer. Other symptoms include night sweats, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, breast tenderness, mood swings and depression.

These unwelcome side effects of decreased progesterone cause many women to seek hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in the form of pills, creams, rings and patches. While HRT can minimize menopause symptoms, studies have shown that progesterone in HRT can cause or worsen acid reflux.

How Progesterone Causes Acid Reflux

Progesterone relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the valve in the esophagus that closes to keep stomach contents from flowing in the wrong direction. If the LES relaxes too much, gastric acid and digested food can rise into the esophagus and cause inflammation and irritation. Chronic acid reflux, known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, can lead to narrowing of the esophagus, esophageal ulcers, Barrett’s esophagus and even esophageal cancer.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): Weigh the Benefits

If your doctor recommends HRT to manage your menopause symptoms, you can do several things to protect yourself from GERD:

1. Ask your doctor for a low-dose treatment. The most effective way to get all the benefits of HRT is to take the lowest dose of estrogen or estrogen/progesterone. A lower dose will help keep the valve between your esophagus and stomach closed.
2. Adopt lifestyle modifications that naturally reduce the risk of reflux. When progesterone levels are elevated, put extra effort into heartburn prevention. Try eating smaller meals, quitting smoking and sleeping with the upper body slightly elevated.
3. Use mucilage to help coat and protect the esophageal lining. Mucilage is a gel-like substance made by plants that soothes and protect irritated tissues in the body. You can get mucilage through aloe vera juice, slippery elm tea, licorice root tea or marshmallow root tea.
4. Avoid trigger foods. Common trigger foods of acid reflux and heartburn include chocolate, citrus, onion, garlic, caffeine, acidic, fatty or spicy foods and mint.

If you notice new or worsening acid reflux after taking HRT, make an appointment with a gastroenterologist. Never ignore chest pain, and don’t dismiss it as heartburn. Heartburn and cardiac chest pain can be confused for one another, so see your doctor immediately if you are experiencing new or more severe pain. To locate one of our board-certified gastroenterologists, click here and enter your zip code in the orange area.

Related Articles:

Heartburn vs. Heart Attack
Managing Heartburn Through Pregnancy
Reflexology and Heartburn

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