Acid Reflux Rises, Along With Obesity

Heartburn and acid reflux increase with obesity

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) In the past decade, there's been a spike in the number of people experiencing heartburn and other symptoms of acid reflux. And researchers say that a weight problem is to blame.

A new study has found that acid reflux has become almost 50 percent more common over the past decade, and researchers believe that obesity is the cause.

The results indicate that it's likely more people will develop esophageal cancer, closely linked with acid reflux.

"Acid reflux symptoms may be related to your weight."

The study was conducted in Norway, and is among the largest of its kind. It took data from over 30,000 people enrolled in a large-scale health study, and was led by Dr. Eivind Ness-Jensen, from the HUNT Research Center's Department of Public Health and General Practice at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

The researchers looked at how many people reported acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms over ten years.

The number of people reporting any symptoms went up by 30 percent. There was an increase of 24 percent among people with “severe” symptoms, and a 47 percent rise in the number of people who experienced acid reflux on a weekly basis.

Interestingly, women under 40 were the least likely to report GERD, but women were more likely to experience symptoms as their age increased.

The study aimed to determine prevalence, but did not specifically look at the causes of each patient's GERD. But Dr. Ness-Jensen suspects that rising rates of obesity are responsible for the increase.

Excess abdominal weight puts pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter, the area between the esophagus and the beginning of the stomach. The extra weight squeezes food and acid back up into the esophagus, creating that feeling of heartburn.

Acid reflux has been linked to esophageal cancer, a type of cancer which is becoming increasingly common. It's thought that exposing cells in the esophagus to acid on a regular basis, which happens during acid reflux, leads to the disease.

Not all cases of acid reflux are related to obesity. But for those who have GERD and are obese, losing weight could help resolve symptoms and avoid a dangerous type of cancer.

The study was published in December 2011, in the journal Gut.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 26, 2011
Last Updated:
December 27, 2011