September 9, 2009 -- Question: What are some of the common risk factors for GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)?
Answer: Reflux, especially severe reflux, is caused by one major abnormality and this abnormality lies with the lower esophageal sphincter. This is a valve between the stomach and the esophagus that helps to prevent reflux from occurring. Conditions which put strain on this valve or weaken the muscle in this valve can predispose to reflux.
Risk factors for men in particular are obesity, tobacco use and alcohol consumption, as well as dietary factors such as the intake of caffeinated beverages and foods. Typical food triggers such as fatty foods, chocolate and tomato-base products can often cause reflux in otherwise asymptomatic patients. Obesity puts strain on the lower esophageal sphincter, this valve between the stomach and the esophagus, and thereby predisposes to more severe reflux. Similarly alcohol and tobacco consumption weaken this valve; it could predispose to reflux.
All of these risk factors for the most part are more common in men and quick dietary modification and lifestyle modification, including weight loss and alcohol and tobacco cessation, can result in a rapid improvement in symptoms.