High BMI Increases GERD Risk

Being overweight is associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and a host of other serious medical conditions. Recently though, medical researchers have added another potential consequence to the list: gastroesophageal reflux disorder, commonly known as GERD.

GERD is a condition in which the valve that separates the stomach from the esophagus fails to close properly, allowing the contents of the stomach (food and stomach acid) to enter the esophagus. This can lead to uncomfortable symptoms such as heartburn, acid regurgitation, chest pain, and difficulty swallowing. Besides this discomfort, GERD can lead to more serious complications (like esophageal cancer) when left untreated.

Research reported in The American Journal of Gastroenterology showed that excess body weight increases a person's risk of GERD symptoms. In this study, obese people (defined as a body mass index greater than 30) were 2.5 times more likely to have reflux symptoms or esophageal erosions than people with "normal" BMIs (between 18.5 and 24.9). They were also nearly three times more likely to develop esophageal cancer than those with a healthy body weight.

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Although researchers aren’t sure whether losing weight would reverse GERD—more studies will explore this possibility—there are plenty of other reasons to achieve a healthy weight. Keep in mind that people of a healthy weight may also experience this condition. Either way, if you are experiencing symptoms of GERD, be sure to check with your doctor to avoid future complications.
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Member Comments

Thanks for the info Report
Great advice!! Thanks for sharing this one!!! Report
Good article. Report
Great info Report
good information Report
I have rarely seen this discussed, but it is interesting to me. I used to have terrible heartburn. I popped Tums like crazy. The heartburn all but went away when I lost 40 lbs. Not sure if it the result of not having the excess weight pushing on my stomach or the result of eating healthier. I actually think it is because of not having the excess weight because I certainly don't always eat healthy, but I rarely have GERD symptoms anymore. I had to laugh the other day when my husband wanted Tums and there weren't any in the house because like I said before, I used to eat them like candy. Report
I was diagnosed last summer/fall, but had had GERD symptoms for years, thinking it was just one of those things. If it got too bad I'd wean myself off coffee for a couple months. It wasn't until it was attacking my esophogus and vocal chords that I was scared enough to commit 100% to living a cleaner lifestyle. Fortunately I dodged the cancer boat. I had already lost some weight, about 20-25 over the last year, and the same amount the tear before that. But I cut out refined sugar, carbonated beverages, coffee, chocolate, caffeine in general, alcohol, fried food, processed meat, pork and worked out for at least an hour 4-6 days a week. I went on prilosec for about a month, but weaned off of it once my esophogus healed. In the process I lost about 60 pounds, and got out of the "obese" category for the first time in over a decade and I stopped having symptoms. I don't think you are ever "cured" from GERD or related vocal chord dysfunction, but I'm in sort of a remission and I'm pretty sure engaging in the above behaviors would get me back to square one. Report
I was diagnosed with Gerd several years ago,and was told I had to lose weight. I am also on medication everyday for it. So I am here to try and improve my lifestyle, lose weight, and eat better. Report
If you want immediate relief you might try what worked for me, and that was cutting all sugar out of my diet. It not only stopped the GERD symptoms right away, but also helped me to lose weight. If I do eat a sugary food, it comes right back. This might not work for everyone, but it was like an "off" switch for me. Report
I found losing 40# has decreased my GERD for two reasons. Without all that fat in my oversized belly, I can sit, bend over, and lie down without the fat in my abdomen pushing up and squeezing my stomach. The biggie is eating small, frequent meals. I find GERD becomes worse with either a too-full stomach (obviously) or a totally empty one--hunger seems to stimulate more acid and if there is nothing for it to work on, it heads up the esophagus. It takes only a small, well-timed, low cal snack halfway between small meals to stop that reaction. I would not be surprised if reaching my goal weight will end up costing Prilosec one of its best customers. Report
I personally think the study is too blanket. It is like saying people with a 30+ BMI will wear larger pants than someone with a 24. generally speaking overweight people are sedetary. I think that lack of action is more to blame than being overweight. Report
I have suffered with GERD for years, even when I was thinner. It bothered didn't bother me so much during the day, as at night. I am careful about most of the other contributing factors. And I tried all the types of acid reduction meds without success. I had lots of side effects, mostly pain under the ribs. I also tried sleeping with extra pillows but read somewhere that actually can exacerbate things if you are bent in the chest area. So I invested in a good bed wedge. It took me a while to get used to as I am a side sleeper Not being able to tolerate meds, this has worked quite well for me. The side benefit has been a marked reduction in my number of sinus infections, which I understand can also be a problem with GERD. Report
I used to have a horrible problem with gastristis and esophagal reflux disease when I was 18 years old. I am 47 years old. I got up to 200lbs. Lost about 15 pounds. I have gained back about 15 pounds since I lost weight. I refuse to go through that horrible time again. I noticed a symptom last saturday. The heartburn was so bad that I couldn't talk or move. I am definitely shedding the pounds. It is one thing to be overweight but a health issue in addition to that - I will not tolerate. More motivation to stay on task. We only get one body and one life to live. Thank you Spark for shedding light on the subject and Getting me back serious again Report
When I was 20 pounds heavier, I was diagnosed with GERD after landing in the ER thinking I might be having a heart attack. Since I have lost weight, I've been able to stop taking medication and resume eating spicy and acidic foods. I feel very fortunate that I was able to resume a normal life just by losing weight. Report
I have had acid reflux for years and been on medication all this time. I am at least 30 pounds overweight, but even the doctor never told me that losing weight might help with the acid reflux. Sometimes I wake up in the night with this awful acid in my throat and I have to get up and take an OTC acid reducer in addition to the daily prescription med. I also take Tums occasionally. I just discovered SparkPeople about two weeks ago and I also joined a health club. I have been tracking my food and did well until my granddaughter came to spend the weekend and I got "off" a little. Also been going to gym daily except for snow days. Will let you know later if my problem improves. Report


About The Author

Liza Barnes
Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.