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Acid Reflux Up Sharply, Beware This Holiday Season


It’s the holiday season, and along with it comes a tendency to eat and drink too much, which can result in episodes of acid reflux. If you do experience acid reflux, you won’t be alone, as a new study of nearly 30,000 people found that the prevalence of once weekly acid reflux events has nearly doubled over the past 10 years.

Acid reflux may lead to esophageal cancer

You see them all the time: commercials for over-the-counter and prescription drugs for acid reflux, and it seems as if the condition has become an accepted part of modern day life.

Yet acid reflux, along with being uncomfortable and painful, can also be dangerous because it is associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer. In recent years, the rates of esophageal cancer have been rising, and it now the fastest growing cancer in the western world.

The new study focused on acid reflux and drew data from participants in the Norwegian Nord-Trondelag Health Study between 1995-97 and 2006-9, following their digestive health information for an average of 11 years. Overall, the reviewers found that the prevalence of any acid reflux symptoms had increased 30%, while symptoms experienced at least once a week had risen by 47%.

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Other results of the study included:

  • Women were more likely to develop acid reflux than men
  • Prevalence of severe acid reflux symptoms rose by 24% during the follow-up period
  • Women younger than 40 were least likely to have acid reflux, but they were more likely to develop symptoms as they got older, with women aged 60 to 69 being the most likely to experience severe symptoms
  • 98% of people with severe acid reflux had symptoms and/or treated them with medication at least once a week
  • The average annual incidence of acid reflux symptoms was greater than 3%

Among the known risk factors for acid reflux are overeating, being overweight or obese, pregnancy (most common during the third trimester), hiatal hernia (which can be caused by obesity, pregnancy, or sudden physical exertion), asthma, peptic ulcers, inadequate amount of digestive enzymes, smoking, and alcohol use.

If you want to help avoid episodes of acid reflux this holiday season, avoid trigger foods, which can vary depending on the person but typically includes spicy foods, fried foods, citrus, coffee, alcohol, and vinegar; don’t overeat, eat slowly, and chew your food thoroughly.

Aside from the discomfort associated with acid reflux, there is also the risk of esophageal cancer. The American Cancer Society estimated 16,470 new cases of the disease in 2008, with a mortality rate of 87%. Esophageal cancer is the seventh leading cause of cancer deaths in the world.

The authors of the latest study warned that “The increasing prevalence of [acid reflux] is alarming, because it will most likely contribute to the increasing incidence of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus in the western population.” To help prevent acid reflux, avoid trigger foods, maintain a healthy weight, do not smoke, and practice stress reduction.

Lagergren J et al. Gut 2011 Dec; doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2011-300715