Harvard Men's Health Watch

Gain more weight, get more GERD

Maintaining a healthy weight is the best way to rein in gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or chronic heartburn, according to a study in The American Journal of Gastroenterology. Researchers found that GERD symptoms increased for every incremental rise in body mass index (BMI), which measures the ratio of weight to height.

In GERD, the acidic contents of the stomach back up into the lower esophagus, causing burning pain. The most effective treatment for GERD is taking an acid-reducing proton-pump inhibitor medication, such as omeprazole (Prilosec). People who are overweight are much more likely to develop GERD.

Researchers followed nearly 30,000 people for 11 years, noting changes in heartburn symptoms and BMI. The study participants experienced 30% more symptoms for each one-point increase in BMI.

If you suffer from GERD, medication is an effective short-term solution. But this study suggests that weight loss is the key to long-term relief—if you are overweight (BMI of 25 or higher). Even a modest "dose" of weight loss could help to tame heartburn symptoms.

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