Is Acid Reflux Genetic or Learned?

B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional
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More than 60 million Americans experience acid reflux symptoms at least once per month. But, is acid reflux a genetic condition or is it just a result of learned health habits that lead to the disease? It’s a question I get frequently. There is no simple answer. In my opinion, the answer is that acid reflux is likely caused by a variety of reasons — each as different as the people who deal with the disease.

Infants, for example, don’t have a lot of external or learned health habits but they can still have acid reflux. In fact they comprise one of the fastest growing populations being prescribed acid reducing medications. In many instances of infant acid reflux, the LES (lower esophageal sphincter) is immature and does not close properly, which allows the stomach contents to splash into the esophagus. Some babies have neither pain nor weight loss but vomit a lot, while others experience pain, food refusal, and even failure to thrive.

There are many learned habits that can contribute to acid reflux. Some include dietary habits, being overweight, smoking, and overindulging in alcohol. These types of habits can be handed down from generation to generation but don’t constitute genetic links.  Making different, healthier choices for future generations is likely to reduce the number of acid reflux cases.

The final group consists of those people who seem to do everything right, yet they still deal with acid reflux. A study of twins published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics  journal found that of 481 identical and 505 fraternal twins the correlation was stronger for identical twins, indicating there may be a genetic component to acid reflux as well.

While it is clear there are numerous factors that  contribute to the disease, acid reflux is treatable. There are acid-reducing medications and, in severe cases, surgery that can provide patients with the relief they need to banish the burn.

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