More than 43% of American adults are obese. Obesity can seriously affect your health and raise your risk of developing many chronic diseases and uncomfortable symptoms, including acid reflux.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is chronic acid reflux. It creates uncomfortable burning in the back of the throat due to stomach acid flowing back up into the esophagus. If you have GERD, you may also struggle with sore throats, hoarseness, and chest pain.
Acid reflux, also known as heartburn, affects most people occasionally, but obesity can make this uncomfortable condition happen on the regular. The association between obesity and acid reflux is strongest in women and the White population.
If you have GERD, you’ll need treatment and care for the burning sensations and potential long-term complications, like precancerous changes to the esophagus.
Here’s why being obese makes acid reflux more likely.
The mechanics of acid reflux
When your lower esophageal sphincter—the muscle that connects your stomach to your esophagus—malfunctions, you end up with acid reflux. Normally, this muscle allows food to pass through to your stomach but prevents stomach acid from flowing back up. When it’s not working correctly, acid returns up into your chest and throat causing heartburn.
How obesity affects acid reflux
Research connects obesity with acid reflux. When you’re obese, the extra weight around your abdomen increases the pressure in the area. Your stomach gets pushed up so its contents are out of place. A portion of your stomach may press into the diaphragm and the chest. This condition, known as a hiatal hernia, causes acid reflux.
People who are obese also tend to have higher levels of pancreatic enzymes and bile. This can change the makeup of stomach acid and make it that much more irritating to your esophagus.
Treating acid reflux
Our gastroenterologist, Dr. Bharat Pothuri, makes dietary recommendations to help ease your symptoms of acid reflux. This includes avoiding alcohol and certain foods that trigger symptoms, such as spicy foods. Prescription medications can also change the amount and quality of your stomach acid to reduce your symptoms.
You can make acid reflux better by avoiding meals and snacks too close to bedtime and elevating your head as you sleep.
Dr. Pothuri can also support you in losing weight, which can help reduce your acid reflux symptoms for the long term. Eating a healthy diet made up of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins helps you lose weight while avoiding the fatty, processed foods that contribute to acid reflux.
Increasing your physical activity and making behavioral changes can also help you lose weight.
Losing weight can eliminate the need for taking medications for your acid reflux. When women lose 5-10% of their current weight, they see a reduction in acid reflux symptoms, while for men it takes a 10% weight loss.
If diet, exercise, and behavior changes don’t help you lose weight, you may qualify for weight-loss surgery. Dr. Pothuri can make an evaluation as to whether or not you qualify for weight-loss surgery or surgery for a hiatal hernia.
If you’re suffering from recurrent acid reflux, call GastroDoxs for a consultation or book an appointment online. Dr. Pothuri can help you ease symptoms and treat the root cause of your heartburn. And if it’s right for you, losing weight may be part of your treatment plan.