Obesity, Acid Reflux Disease Linked?

Obesity May Make GERD More Likely, Researchers Report

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 1, 2005 -- Here's another reason to tackle obesity: Trimming down could help avoid or ease heartburn.

In heartburn, also called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, the tube leading from the throat to the stomach.

Obesity raises the risk of GERD and two other conditions -- erosive esophagitis and cancer of the esophagus -- write Howard Hampel, MD, and colleagues.

Hampel's team works at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Houston's Baylor College of Medicine. Their report appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

GERD-Obesity Link

The researchers analyzed nine studies done from 1966 to 2004. Six studies showed a notable link between obesity and GERD.

"The association between BMI and GERD complications was markedly consistent," write the researchers. None of the studies showed any GERD benefits from obesity, and the studies that didn't strongly link obesity and GERD tilted in that direction, they write.Check Your Heartburn SymptomsCheck Your Heartburn Symptoms

In eight of the nine studies, as BMI (body mass index -- a measure of body fat ) rose, so did GERD symptoms, write the researchers, who set quality standards for the studies they reviewed.

What's the Connection?

How does obesity make GERD more likely? The researchers aren't sure.

They mention a few theories, including excess body fat compressing the stomach, the effects of food (especially fatty foods), and hernias. But they didn't find evidence that settled the matter.

The GERD-obesity link should get more research, write Hampel and colleagues.

Meanwhile, they offer this advice: "It is prudent to counsel all overweight patients who present with GERD-related diseases that weight loss may help improve symptoms."

Show Sources

SOURCES: Hampel, H. Annals of Internal Medicine, Aug. 2, 2005; vol 143: pp 199-211. WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise: "Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) -- Topic Overview." News release, American College of Physicians.

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