More Acid Reflux, is Obesity to Blame?

A new study found that acid reflux is on the rise and it is likely due to the growing obesity rates. The findings indicated that over the last decade, the weekly incidence of symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), such as heart burn and acid reflux (when stomach contents leak backward into the esophagus), grew by almost 50 percent. The study is the largest that has been conducted about GERD and followed more than 30,000 people for 11 years in Norway. At the start of the study, 11.6 percent of the participants reported having acid reflux weekly, and by the end of the study, 17.1 percent of the people reported weekly symptoms — a 47 percent increase. While the study does not explain why this increase has occurred, the researchers point out that it is most likely because of the increasing rates of obesity in industrialized countries. A troubling consequence of suffering with acid reflux for a long period of time is that it is a risk factor for esophageal cancer, a dangerous and once rare form of cancer that is now becoming more common. It is estimated by the American Cancer Society that nearly 17,000 new cases of esophageal cancer were diagnosed in the U.S. in 2011 and nearly 15,000 Americans died from it.

Interestingly, the study found that 1 in 5 participants had their acid reflux symptoms resolve on their own.  Whether these people lost weight or were carefully watching what they ate is beyond the scope of this study.  Experts advise that in addition to weight loss, there are lifestyle changes that can improve symptoms of acid reflux. Some of these changes include not eating large meals before bed time, avoiding alcohol and cigarettes, and eating 4 or 5 small meals daily instead of larger meals. Studies show that a hiatal hernia and acid reflux is present in up to 40% of obese patients undergoing weight loss surgery. Dr. Gregg Jossart told us, “Fortunately, the hiatal hernia can be repaired concurrently at the time of bariatric surgery, thereby treating both obesity and GERD. In addition, the weight loss that results from the surgery improves heartburn also, so there is a synergistic effect.”

Research has shown that weight and age seem to play a role in the occurrence of acid reflux in women. The study found that new cases of acid reflux symptoms rose with age for women, and women under 40 were the least likely to report symptoms. Additionally, a few years ago, a study found that GERD is linked to obesity in women. You can read more about that study here.

ABC News did a story this week on the issue of GERD, focusing on post-menopausal women. Dr. Marina Kurian was interviewed for the story. You can watch that story here:

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