Prevalence of Acid Reflux Doubled in Past Decade

According to a recent longitudinal study, the prevalence of acid reflux has risen significantly over the past decade, with women in particular more susceptible to the ailment as they aged than men.

According to a recent longitudinal study, the prevalence of acid reflux has risen significantly over the past decade, with women in particular more susceptible to the ailment as they aged than men.

The investigators involved with the study speculated that the increase of acid reflux could be connected to rises in obesity rates.

Researchers tracked the acid reflux symptoms, or gastro-oesophageal reflux symptoms (GORS), of participants in the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study (HUNT study), a longitudinal series of population-based health surveys in Nord-Trøndelag County, Norway. The participants consisted of all adult residents in Norway: 58,869 (64% response rate) from 1995 to 1997 and 44,997 (49%) from 2006 to 2009. Of these, 29,610 participants (61%) were followed up for an average of 11 years.

The researchers obtained and compared results from both segments of the cohort. From 1995 and 2009, they found a 30% rise in individuals who reported any acid reflux symptoms (from 31.4% to 40.9%) and a 24% rise in severe symptoms (from 5.4% to 6.7%). The prevalence of acid reflux symptoms experienced at least weekly increased by 47% (from 11.6% to 17.1%).

These results were observed in both genders and all age groups, though increases were seen in severe symptoms mostly in middle aged individuals; females under the age of 40 were the least likely to suffer from acid reflux but were more likely to develop symptoms as they got older, and the frequency of the symptoms increased with age. Women between the ages of 60 and 69 were the most likely to suffer from severe acid reflux.

Of the participants who suffered from severe acid reflux symptoms, 98% used medication to remedy them at least once weekly in comparison to the 31% of those with mild symptoms.

GORS can unexpectedly disappear without the aid of medication, but the average annual spontaneous loss of any and severe acid reflux was 2.32% between 1995 and 1997, and 1.22% between 2006 and 2009. The chances of symptoms spontaneously disappearing also decreased with age, with women under the age of 40 the most likely to experience a sudden loss of symptoms.

The authors said in a press release that the use of anti-reflux medication or pregnancy did not sufficiently explain these patterns in women, but increasing rates of obesity could partially explain the overall rise in acid reflux, as being overweight is a known risk factor for the condition.

Whatever the cause, this rise is alarming to the authors, who said that “it will most likely contribute to the increasing incidence of adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus [cancer associated with acid reflux] in the western population.”

This study was published in Gut.