Are you wondering if that discomfort in your chest or stomach while working out on an empty stomach might be from acid reflux?

“Yes, exercising on an empty stomach can cause acid reflux,” says Jeffrey Fine, MD, chief of gastroenterology at the Medical Surgical Clinic of Irving.

How does this happen?

“Exercising on an empty stomach can increase intra-abdominal pressure,” explains Dr. Fine.

“Anything that increases intra-abdominal pressure can overwhelm the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) and result in reflux.” The symptom can linger for a while after the exercise is over.

Symptoms of Acid Reflux from Exercising on an Empty Stomach

The symptoms are those that are typical of acid reflux: a discomfort in the abdominal area that can be described as an ache, mild pain or burning sensation.

This feeling can also make its way to the chest area, including what seems to be below the sternum (the esophagus is right behind the sternum).

If you’re getting chest pain every time you exercise on an empty stomach, but not when you have some food in it, then yes, this can be acid reflux.

However, make sure you have a thorough exam with a cardiologist so that a cardiac cause can be ruled out.

For example, suppose you have a normal coronary calcium score (within five years of having the test).

Suppose also that your blood pressure and cholesterol profile are in the normal range.

You also don’t have diabetes.

Finally, you have not noticed any unusual shortness of breath or decline in physical abilities due to increased fatigue.

Given all that — chances are extremely high that the discomfort in your chest (and especially if it’s in your abdomen) is being caused by acid reflux if it comes only when you exercise on an empty stomach.

Dr. Fine has been in practice for over 30 years and specializes in digestive health, integrative medicine and food sensitivities.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.