Obesity-Related Conditions that Can Cause GERD
A hiatal hernia occurs when a portion of the stomach moves through the diaphragm allowing food and stomach acid to back up into the esophagus. The major risk factors for developing this type of hernia are age (being older than 50) and obesity. Common symptoms are heartburn, burping and difficulty swallowing. Small hernias can usually be managed with heartburn medications (H-2 receptor blockers like Tagamet or Pepcid or proton-pump inhibitors like Prevacid or Prilosec). A large hernia might require surgery. For people who are overweight, losing weight can decrease the symptoms associated with having a hiatal hernia.
One of the many possible complications of (uncontrolled) diabetes is one called gastroparesis, a condition in which your stomach takes too long to empty because high blood glucose levels have damaged the vagus nerve (which controls the muscles of the stomach). Common symptoms besides heartburn are nausea, feeling full after eating a small amount of food and vomiting undigested food. Eating six small meals a day can help control the symptom of this disorder but it's usually a chronic condition. Your doctor can help by adjusting your insulin and prescribing medications that improve gastric emptying like Reglan or Erythromycin. If overweight, losing weight can help you manage diabetes, making it easier for you and your doctor to control the resulting heartburn.
If you suspect one of them might be causing your heartburn, talk to your doctor immediately.
So, will losing weight cure your heartburn? The answer is maybe. If your GERD is caused or exacerbated by the pressure of excess fat in your abdomenal area, even losing a small amount of weight (5-10 percent of your body weight) could make a big difference. If you have a hiatal hernia, losing weight might help, but a large hernia would need to be surgically repaired to completely get rid of your GERD. And a serious condition like gastroparesis brought on by diabetes is something you'll have to manage your entire life. But losing weight has so many health benefits beyond heartburn control, so changing your diet and starting an exercise program for weight control could increase your quality of life in a lot of ways. Only a doctor can determine the right treatment plan for you, but the first step to stopping your recurrent heartburn is asking for help!
This article has been reviewed and approved by Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietitian.
Mayo Clinic, "Hiatal Hernia," www.mayoclinic.com, accessed on April 25, 2013.
Mayo Clinic, "GERD," www.mayoclinic.com, accessed on April 25, 2013.
National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse, "Gastroparesis," www.digestive.niddk.nih.gov, accessed on April 25, 2013.
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