About half of American adults experience GERD at least once a month. People of all ages are susceptible to GERD. Elderly people with GERD tend to have a more serious condition than younger people.
Risk Factors for Heartburn and GERD
Eating Pattern. People who eat a heavy meal and then lie on their back or bend over from the waist are at risk for an attack of heartburn. Anyone who snacks at bedtime is also at high risk for heartburn.
Pregnancy. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to GERD in their third trimester, as the growing uterus puts increasing pressure on the stomach. Heartburn in such cases is often resistant to dietary interventions and even to antacids.
Obesity. A number of studies suggest that obesity contributes to GERD, and it may increase the risk for erosive esophagitis (severe inflammation in the esophagus) in GERD patients. Having a large amount of fat in the abdomen may be the most important risk factor for the development of acid reflux and associated complications such as Barrett's esophagus and cancer of the esophagus, studies indicate. Researchers have also reported that increased BMI is associated with more severe GERD symptoms. Losing weight appears to help reduce GERD symptoms. However, gastric banding surgery to combat obesity may actually increase the risk for, or worsen symptoms of GERD.
Review Date: 07/11/2010
Reviewed By: Reviewed by: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.