Acid reflux has been on the rise for decades now and although doctors are still trying to identify what’s causing this increased prevalence, we do know that the rates of reflux are higher in the U.S. than in most other countries.

To some degree, there’s still a bit of uncertainty regarding what actually causes the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter in patients with GERD, which results in increased reflux. In some people, it may be genetic, and in many cases, there are a number of other lifestyle factors that could contribute. Overeating, being overweight, pregnancy, wearing tight clothing, and smoking are just a few. 

It’s estimated that over 20% to 30% of Americans suffer from acid reflux at least once weekly, according to the National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse. In 2015, hospitalization from acid reflux and GERD had increased to 3,141,965 people annually. Likewise, GERD diagnosis for infants also rose by 42% for infants and 84% for children ages 2-17, according to the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project. 

Since then, not much more has been published as to the incidence or growth of acid reflux, but many doctors believe that the rise of obesity may signify a rise in the cases of acid reflux.  Here is some more information on the causes and factors doctors believe may be behind the numbers.

Causes And Factors That Increase the Risk of Acid Reflux And GERD

Many doctors believe excessive weight is a big contributor to reflux for both children and adults in the US. Excessive weight puts pressure on the stomach and the LES, which can cause it to work improperly or lose its strength. In addition, when people eat lots of fatty foods it slows down the digestive process, leaving more food to cause reflux.

In fact, food is a big culprit in the rise of acid reflux and GERD. We have a large selection of food in the supermarkets and restaurants in the United States, and many of these foods increase stomach acid. Beverages like coffee, tea, and soda have large amounts of caffeine that is acidic. These beverages also interfere with the natural ability of the esophagus to move food into the stomach, disturbing digestion and potentially causing heartburn or reflux.

In addition to food, other American lifestyle habits can cause reflux. Smoking irritates the esophagus, weakens the LES and raises the acidity in stomach juices which worsens the symptoms of acid reflux. Too much alcohol (yes, there is such a thing!) produces excessive stomach acid and affects how the esophagus functions.  

How To Stop The Rise Of Acid Reflux And GERD

One of the best places to start is in the kitchen. Portions in the U.S. are significantly larger than in other countries, and eating three large meals a day isn't necessarily the best approach. To avoid post-meal reflux, try to eat several small meals a day, preferably low-fat to avoid slowing the digestion of food. Heartburn shouldn’t be a part of the eating experience, in fact, it’s not normal to experience heartburn at all after you eat. Heartburn is a sign that something is wrong with your digestive process, and can be a sign of GERD

Overeating, obesity, and a poor diet are some of the main causes of GERD in the United States. Many of the processed foods we eat contain citric acid and ascorbic acid used to preserve food. When we eat these foods, we expose our body to more acid. Look at labels and cut down on canned and processed food with these two ingredients.

More Information

Lifestyle changes, diet, and occasional medication can go a long way towards eliminating the frequency and reducing the symptoms of acid reflux. Patients who are experiencing chronic reflux, though, are likely suffering from GERD and may require more extensive treatment options like acid reflux surgery in order to effectively achieve long-term symptom relief. If you notice that you're frequently dealing with symptoms of acid reflux, take the time to sit down with a reflux specialist and talk about your options. GERD is an incredibly treatable disorder, and the experts here at Tampa Bay Reflux Center are here to walk you through the whole process. To book an appointment with a reflux specialist, contact us today!