Thin people can indeed experience heartburn, but overweight people are more prone, and there’s a clear link between obesity and acid reflux.
Here, Dr. Ayub Hussain at Northside Gastroenterology Associates in Cypress and Katy, Texas, explains the connection and what can be done.
Before diving into the relationship between weight and digestive problems, let’s ensure we’re all on the same page. Three main terms get tossed around as if they’re interchangeable, but they have distinct meanings.
Heartburn is a symptom, not a condition. It’s the sensation of irritation or burning in the lining of your esophagus as stomach acid rises. Because your lower esophagus is located in your chest cavity adjacent to your heart, it earned the nickname “heartburn.”
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acids and other contents travel upward past the lower esophageal sphincter. Everyone is susceptible to occasional acid reflux due to large or spicy meals, lying down after eating, or several other similar factors. Typically, an over-the-counter antacid and time are all it takes to relieve the discomfort.
GERD is a chronic form of acid reflux that occurs regularly and persists long term. Over time, GERD can cause serious damage to your esophageal lining, leading to pain, bleeding, ulcers, and hiatal hernias.
Untreated GERD may also increase your risk of developing asthma, chronic coughing, and eroding tooth enamel.
What you eat, when you eat, how you eat, and what you do after you eat can all contribute to acid reflux. Smoking and taking certain medications can also be factors.
However, studies show that excess weight nearly always goes hand in hand with acid reflux. As your body mass index (BMI) goes up, so does your likelihood of developing digestive issues, such as acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD. Folks with a BMI between 25 and 30 double their risk of developing acid reflux, and those with a BMI over 30 are three times as likely to get GERD.
Even if you maintain a healthy body weight, slight increases can trigger acid reflux. Research shows that people with a healthy BMI range — 21-25 — may develop GERD due to minor weight gain.
The reason for the correlation between excess weight and acid reflux is simple — the extra fat applies more pressure to your abdomen, which forces the contents upward. Also, the increased pressure relaxes the esophageal sphincter, allowing acid to slip past.
Losing weight is your top priority if you have weight-related acid reflux or GERD. Switching to a healthier diet and getting plenty of exercise is a great place to start, but Dr. Hussain can advise you about specific treatments that address your unique symptoms.
Meanwhile, you can ease your acid reflux symptoms by:
If your symptoms persist, Dr. Hussain may prescribe proton pump inhibitors or H2 receptor antagonists to decrease the acid in your stomach and give your esophagus a chance to heal.
In extreme cases of severe tissue damage or hiatal hernia, Dr. Hussain performs surgery to repair the problem and provide long-term relief.
Don’t let frequent acid reflux develop into GERD; contact us today by phone or online to schedule an appointment with Dr. Hussain.