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D.iet & H.ealth : C.hildren & W.omen Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Weight Gain In Females Linked To Heartburn
By Kathy Jones
Jun 1, 2006, 15:54

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June 1, ( - A few extra pounds on a woman can increase the risk of developing heartburn even if the woman is not overweight or obese, according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Women with even moderate weight gain doubled their risk of developing of heartburn and acid reflux as compared to women who did not gain any weight.

"I see this as one more good reason to try to lose weight if you've put on a few pounds," said the lead author of the study, Dr. Brian C. Jacobson of Boston University Medical Center. "This sheds some light that any excess weight over ideal body weight may have a detrimental effect."

Doctors are already aware that overweight and obesity increase the risk for GERD, but this is the first time that it has been directly related to body-mass index, even if a person is not overweight. "Studies in the past have lumped together all normal-weight people," Jacobson said. "We said, "Let's tease apart the normal weight as well.'"

For the study, the researchers crafted a questionnaire on GERD, often called heartburn, and sent it to 10,545 women who took part in the Nurses’ Health Study, a long-term study of women’s health. When the study first began in 1976, all women were aged 30 to 55 years.

Jacobson and colleagues reviewed their weight when they were 18 years old and compared it to their weight in 1998, when they were 52 to 77 years old. They also calculated the women’s BMI (body mass index), which relates height to weight.

The researchers found that
* Almost 2,310 or 22 percent of the women admitted to having acid reflux symptoms at least twice a week.

* About 3,419 or 55 percent said that their symptoms were moderate in severity.

* Women having a BMI of less than 20 had a 33 percent lower risk of developing heartburn.

* Women with BMI in the region of 22.5 to 24.9 had a 38 percent higher risk of GERD symptoms.

* Women who had a normal BMI at the beginning of the study, but registered an increase of 3.5 in their BMI over the years were found to be at higher risk of developing acid reflux.

As an example researchers said that a 5-foot 2-inch woman weighing 123 to 136 pounds had a 38 percent greater chance of reflux than a woman weighing 110 to 122 lb. "We see an extremely linear trend that shows that the higher up you go on the BMI scale, the higher risk you have," Jacobson said. A BMI of more than 25 is considered to be overweight. The findings get greater credence when it became clear that losing weight seemed to lower the risk of heartburn.

"If you have heartburn and you're at your ideal body weight, I don't think anyone would suggest that you go to an unhealthy [low] weight," Jacobson said. "If you have put on a few pounds over the past few years and notice a few symptoms or your symptoms got worse, you may the have motivation to lose weight."

He added that most of the side effects of weight gain are silent, but with heartburn "there's this annoying problem that's in your chest. It sort of redefines how you think of weight."

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, occurs when there is a malfunction in the sphincter or the valve that regulates the entry of food and other substances into the stomach. When this valve becomes leaky, contents of the stomach retract back into the esophagus. This partially digested material is usually acidic and can irritate the esophagus, causing heartburn and other symptoms.

Occasional heartburn is common but does not necessarily mean one has GERD. Heartburn that occurs more than twice a week may be considered GERD. Some of the other symptoms of GERD may be pain in the chest, hoarseness in the morning, or trouble swallowing.

Risk factors for developing acid reflux include alcohol use, overweight, pregnancy and smoking. Eating spicy food can also trigger heartburn. Doctors usually recommend lifestyle and dietary changes to relieve heartburn. Many people with GERD also need medication like antacids.

The current study evaluated the risk for women, but the researchers feel that the same fact might hold true for men as well.

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