Harvard Women's Health Watch

In Brief: Rising BMI increases reflux, even in normal-weight women

In Brief

Rising BMI increases reflux, even in normal-weight women

Women who put on a few pounds, even if their body mass index (BMI) remains normal, may be at increased risk for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), according to a study conducted at the Harvard Medical School and Boston University School of Medicine. Past research has linked GERD to being overweight or obese, but this study — in the June 2, 2006, New England Journal of Medicine — is the first to suggest that it may result from weight gain in normal-weight people.

GERD arises when stomach contents flow back (reflux) into the esophagus due to a faulty valve at its lower end. Symptoms include heartburn (a burning or painful sensation behind the sternum) and regurgitation (the backflow of refluxed stomach contents into the back of the mouth). Occasional heartburn is generally not a problem, but frequent symptoms — more than twice a week — may be a sign of GERD. Untreated, it can have serious consequences, including esophageal cancer.

BMI and increased risk of frequent GERD symptoms

BMI

Increase in risk

20.0-22.4 (normal)

0%

22.5-24.9 (normal)

38%

25.0-27.4 (overweight)

120%

27.5-29.9 (overweight)

143%

30.0-34.9 (obese)

192%

Source: New England Journal of Medicine 2006; 354: 234-8

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