Stomach acid, also known as gastric juice, is essential for digestion. Parietal cells, cells that line the stomach, produce hydrochloric acid. This potent chemical helps break down food into its most basic components needed to sustain life.
Sometimes, mutations in acid-producing cells in your digestive system pump out too much acid, which can lead to symptoms of belly pain, bloating, and heartburn.
This article will discuss the most common conditions that are associated with an overproduction of stomach acid, its signs and symptoms, and ways to mitigate the symptoms that come about as a result.
Signs and Symptoms of Excess Stomach Acid
Too much acid in your stomach can overwhelm the prostaglandins (hormone-like chemicals that influence pain and inflammation) in your stomach and duodenum. These hormones help protect the lining of your stomach, but if they are overwhelmed, it can cause ulcers as well as a host of other symptoms including:
What Are the Causes?
Stomach acid is one of the tools that the digestive system uses to transform the raw materials of our food into the nutrients and energy needed to keep us alive, but there are certain conditions that can cause our body to produce too much gastric juice. These include :
- Zollinger-Ellison syndrome (ZES). Hormone-secreting neuroendocrine tumors called gastrinomas are sometimes present in those who have rare inherited genetic conditions like multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1). These tumors produce gastrina hormone that stimulates acid production. The combination of too much stomach acid (from high gastrin levels) and ulcers in the stomach or small intestine is characteristic of a rare condition called ZES.
- Helicobacter pylori. H. pylori is a bacteria that damages tissues in your stomach and duodenum (the first part of your small intestine). Having an active acute H. pylori bacterial infection in your stomach may lead to an increase in stomach acid, while chronic infection has been shown to reduce gastric acid secretion.
- Stress. Stress has been shown to inhibit gastric emptying of acid. Chronic stress can also deplete prostaglandins which protect the lining of the stomach from acid, increasing your risk of developing ulcers.
- Ulcers. Ulcers are common among people who are stressed, take high amounts of NSAIDS, or are infected with H. pylori—all of which are independent factors for increased acid production.
- Medication. Medications such as H2 blockers such as Pepcid (famotidine) and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) decrease acid production in the stomach. If you take one of these regularly, it is possible that you may experience a rebound in stomach acid production if you stop abruptly .
Complications of Excess Stomach Acid
Excessive amounts of stomach acid cause the following three conditions:
- Peptic ulcers: Sores that result from acid eating away at the stomach’s lining.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): GERD is a medical condition characterized by the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus.
- Gastrointestinal bleeding: Acid that leaks into the GI tract can cause sores and bleeding, especially in the organs associated with digestion such as the small intestine and pancreas.
How Excess Stomach Acid Is Treated
There are a number of medications that you can take to reduce acid production in the stomach, helping to alleviate heartburn symptoms.
- Histamine 2 blockers (H2 blockers): These drugs block histamine receptors which produce gastric acid along the lining of the stomach. They work quickly, often in 15 to 30 minutes, and the effects may last for about 12 hours. Examples are Axid AR ( nizatidine), Pepcid Complete or Pepcid AC (famotidine), Tagamet (cimetidine), and Zantac (ranitidine).
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): These are another class of potent acid-reducing medications, except their effects last longer than H2 inhibitors, producing relief for as long as 24 hours. The effect is increased when they’re taken for several days in a row. Some commonly sold PPIs are:
- Dexilant (dexlansoprazole)
- Nexium (esomeprazole)
- Prevacid (lansoprazole)
- Prilosec (omeprazole)
- Protonix (pantoprazole)
- AcipHex (rabeprazole)
You can prevent high stomach acid output for some conditions more easily than others. For example, if the cause of your excessive stomach acid is due to H. pylori infection, antibiotics can clear your infection resolving your symptoms.
If you have ZES, it might be harder to control stomach acid production. Your healthcare provider may recommend having tumors surgically removed and undergoing chemotherapy. You can also use PPIs to block the action of the tiny pumps that secrete acid into the gut.
When to See a Healthcare Provider
If you have persistent symptoms that are getting worse or don’t go away with treatment, seek immediate medical attention.
Stomach acid is a natural part of the digestive system that helps the body breakdown foods into its most basic components that your organs can use, but when it’s produced in high amounts it can cause ulcers and heartburn that have a range of associated symptoms.
A Word From Verywell
Stomach acid is only a problem when it’s produced in excessive amounts or when the acid is regurgitated into your esophagus. Most people do not have rare disorders that cause dangerously high levels of stomach acid to be produced in the body.
Usually, either some food you have eaten or lifestyle habits are the cause of your heartburn symptoms. These can be relieved with a combination of over-the-counter medication, lifestyle changes, and time. Still, if you have concerns, contact a healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Frequently Asked Questions
What causes the overproduction of acid in the stomach?
There are a number of causes of excess acid production in the stomach including H. pylori infection, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, and rebound effects from medication withdrawal.
Will drinking water reduce stomach acid?
Drinking water in small amounts may help reduce symptoms of acid reflux, but it does not reduce or dilute stomach acid.
How long does it take for stomach acid levels to return to normal?
The time it takes for your stomach acid to return to its normal levels varies from person to person based on the cause, severity, and effectiveness of treatment.