A Why are we seeing an Increase in Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?
— By By Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D.
The number of cases of GERD has been on the rise among younger populations, and this likely is due to an increase in obesity across populations.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) has traditionally been associated with middle-aged or older patients. However, the number of cases has been on the rise among younger age groups — 30 through 39 years — and this likely is due to an increase in obesity across populations.1
Many people experience occasional gastroesophageal reflux which occurs when the content of their stomach leaks back into their esophagus. It is typically experienced after a meal and the discomfort may be greater when lying down or bending over. People with obesity, particularly those with visceral fat, can be at increased risk because excess abdominal fat creates additional pressure on the stomach, which makes acid leakage or backflow more likely. Hiatal hernias, asthma and esophageal adenocarcinoma are also strongly linked to GERD in people with obesity.
Non-Pharmaceutical Treatment Options for GERD
There are many non-pharmaceutical options that can help reduce symptoms of GERD. Patients can be advised to:
- Avoid certain foods: Citrus, tomatoes, spices, caffeine and fatty foods contribute to acid reflux. Awareness of foods that trigger acid reflux can reduce symptoms, as can limiting alcohol and smoking.
- Avoid lying flat: GERD patients should avoid lying down for three hours after a meal to avoid heartburn and other symptoms. Sleeping with the head of the bed raised four to six inches also can help.
- Try relaxation techniques: Practicing meditation can relax muscles, and incorporating periods of deep breathing daily can strengthen the diaphragm.
- Eat smaller meals: Having five or six small meals throughout the day allows time for the stomach to empty, which reduces pressure on the esophagus.
- Chew non-mint-flavored gum: Chewing increases saliva and absorbs acid in the mouth so that it does not get to the esophagus. However, mint-flavors should be avoided because it might have a reverse effect.
Weight Loss Can Reduce or Eliminate Reduce Gastroesophageal Reflux
Antacids may help with occasional acid reflux, but GERD is better treated with moderate dietary and lifestyle changes or the use of medication. Structured weight loss programs, such as New Direction, include dietary modifications, increased activity and behavioral change that can completely resolve GERD symptoms for overweight and obese patients.2 Additionally, weight loss of between five and 10 percent has been found to have a significant impact on reducing GERD scores for women.
Both occasional acid reflux and GERD can be well-managed by patients. Informing them about the symptoms and how to relieve them via weight management can reduce symptoms, and also can help them distinguish between heartburn and a possible heart attack.
- The Changing Epidemiology of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: Are Patients Getting Younger?
- Weight Loss Can Lead to Resolution of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Symptoms: A Prospective Intervention Trial
About the Author: Dr. Andrea Pampaloni has over 20 years of communication experience across corporate, academic, nonprofit and government sectors. She provides research and writing services on a range of business issues and industry-specific topics to prepare white papers, articles, proposals, presentations, technical content, and speaking points, as well as marketing-communications content such as blogs, website content, newsletters, news releases and award submissions. Dr. Pampaloni’s research findings have been presented at national and international conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals, and she is a ghostwriter for three books, a Forbes article, and several corporate blogs.