Gut Feeling: Heartburn May Be Genetic

Finding Could Mean New Treatments for Acid Reflux Disease

From the WebMD Archives

July 14, 2003 -- Don't blame the burritos and beer -- heartburn is likely inherited.

A new study, published in the journal Gut, suggests there is a genetic link to acid reflux disease, better known as heartburn.

Acid reflux disease is one of the most common digestive disorders today, and people with genetic vulnerability could have a 1.5 times higher risk, writes lead researcher Nigel Trudgill, MD, with the Sandwell General Hospital in West Bromwich, England.

The statistics:

  • About one in five people suffer from acid reflux disease.
  • Those who have chronic acid reflux disease are at increased risk of esophageal cancer.
  • Over the past three decades, the number of esophageal cancer cases has risen faster than any other cancer.

The study looks at the heartburn incidence in more than 2,000 sets of identical and nonidentical twins. All completed a questionnaire about their heartburn symptoms as well as potential risk factors for acid reflux disease -- smoking, drinking too much alcohol, being overweight, and taking heart drugs, birth control pills, and drugs for anxiety.

While 18% of all the twins had acid reflux disease, an identical twin was 1.5 times more likely to have it if her identical twin also had it -- a significant finding, writes Trudgill.

Taking into account the known risk factors, genes account for about 43% of acid reflux disease, he writes.

His finding could point toward new treatments for acid reflux disease, Trudgill writes.