What are risk factors for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)?

Risk factors for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) include:
  • being overweight or obese
  • smoking
  • pregnancy
  • having a hiatal hernia where the stomach moves up above the diaphragm
  • diabetes
  • excess alcohol intake
  • asthma
Acid reflux affects as many as 20 percent of Americans. But who is at risk for GERD? Sharmila Anandasabapathy, MD, a gastroenterologist at The Mount Sinai Medical Center, explains which risk factors are associated with heartburn.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when there is an imbalance between the normal defense mechanisms of the esophagus and offensive factors such as acid and other digestive juices and enzymes in the stomach. Often, the barrier between the stomach and the esophagus is impaired by weakening of the muscle (lower esophageal sphincter) or the presence of a hiatal hernia, where part of the stomach is displaced into the chest. Hiatal hernias, however, are common, and not all people with a hiatal hernia have reflux. A major cause of reflux is obesity, whereby increased pressure in the abdomen overcomes the barrier between the stomach and the esophagus. Obesity, pregnancy, smoking, excess alcohol use and consumption of a variety of foods such as coffee, citrus drinks, tomato-based products, chocolate, peppermint and fatty foods may also contribute to reflux symptoms.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.