Who is most likely to have GERD?

  • pregnant women, especially those in their third trimester
  • people who have asthma
  • people who have diabetes
  • people who have hiatal hernia
  • people older than age 40

How does pregnancy increase my risk?

The hormone progesterone, which rises during pregnancy, can relax, or open, your lower esophageal sphincter, or LES. When it relaxes, or opens, it allows your stomach's contents to back up into your esophagus. In addition, GERD may result because as your uterus expands, it increases the pressure on the LES. For most women, GERD goes away after pregnancy.

How does asthma increase my risk?

There is the possibility that the severe coughing that often accompanies asthma may put pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter and cause reflux. On the other hand, asthma may be brought on by GERD. Although the research isn't conclusive, there is evidence that an asthma flare-up can be brought on when stomach contents reflux into the lungs. The acid irritates your breathing tubes, or bronchioles, leading to a temporary narrowing of the small airways in the lung, or bronchoconstriction, causing wheezing.

How does diabetes increase my risk?

Diabetes can slow your stomach's ability to empty during digestion. This condition, known as delayed gastric emptying, can contribute to GERD.

How does hiatal hernia increase my risk?

Hiatal hernia is a condition in which the upper part of your stomach pushes its way up through the muscle, called the diaphragm, which separates your chest from your abdomen. It's unclear, however, just how a hiatal hernia increases the likelihood that acid will reflux into your esophagus.

How does age increase my risk?

Although GERD can affect people of all ages, statistics show that your risk increases as you age and rises dramatically after age 40. Age-related changes affect the digestive tract and are a result of:

  • decreased saliva production (saliva helps wash away reflux when you swallow)
  • decreased peristalsis - the contractions the esophagus makes to move food to the stomach
  • slower stomach emptying
  • a drop in lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, pressure, which permits it to open more easily and allow reflux

Older adults tend to have milder symptoms that occur more frequently. In spite of the milder symptoms, the frequency actually puts them at higher risk for more serious damage to their esophagus. Studies show that older Caucasian men, in particular, are more likely to have serious GERD.