Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease - What are the causes of GERD?

Did you know that acid reflux and its many unpleasant symptoms tend to occur far more frequently in some people than others? Why would this be and what are the causes of GERD? Many doctors believe the answer is connected to family history.

It is estimated that almost 50% of acid reflux sufferers can trace the condition back to their genes. However, researchers are still not sure what the exact genetic factors are. Nevertheless, it is thought that those with family members, who have muscular or structural problems in the stomach or esophagus, are more susceptible to suffering the same issues, which tend to result in acid reflux and GERD.

The following are some acid reflux/GERD causes that could be considered genetic factors:

Relaxed LES – The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a group of muscles connected to the stomach and the esophagus. When functioning properly, the LES opens to allow food from the esophagus into the stomach and closes. When the LES malfunctions, due to the weakening of muscles, it relaxes and is no longer able to fully close, allowing some of the stomach contents to backup into the esophagus causing reflux.

Whether or not someone can be born with a weak LES is yet to be determined, but there are many factors you could have “inherited” from your parents, such as poor eating habits, food intolerance, a hiatal hernia, or obesity, that can weaken the LES and make you more susceptible to relaxed LES.

Gastroparesis (impaired or delayed stomach function) – This is an abnormal nerve or muscle function that occurs in the stomach, and is present in more than half of GERD sufferers. This abnormality causes the slow digestion of stomach acid, which causes the stomach to delay emptying its contents into the intestines. As a result, there is an increase in stomach pressure which increases the risk of acid reflux. Gastroparesis is a common condition in about 20% of people with type 1 diabetes and is also not uncommon in those with type 2 diabetes. Both types of diabetes are considered hereditary.

Esophagus abnormalities – Malformations in the esophagus are believed to be a factor for GERD sufferers. One of the malformations is motility abnormalities that affect the peristalsis. Peristalsis is a group of smooth muscle contractions that are designed to move food down the esophagus. When the peristalsis becomes abnormal, the muscle contractions slow which causes food to become stuck or move too slowly down the esophagus. This can cause lead to acid reflux symptoms as peristalsis helps to wash any refluxed acid from the esophagus. When these contractions are hindered the acid can sit in the esophagus for longer, causing damage and increasing severity of symptoms.

Another abnormality is known as adult-ringed esophagus. This is a condition in which many small rings line the throat and also makes swallowing difficult. It is not certain what causes these malformations in the esophagus, but there could be a genetic link.

Hiatal hernia – This is a problem that occurs in the hiatus, which is a small hole in the diaphragm. The esophagus fits through the tiny opening to join the stomach. The hole is usually tight, but for some people, the hiatus can weaken and enlarge. This can result in some of the stomach protruding into it and is a condition known as Hiatal hernia. This hernia is believed to impair LES function and can increase GERD symptoms. Some studies suggest that a person, who has family members with hiatal hernia, is at greater risk of developing the problem too.

Asthma – This is a respiratory disease that tends to run in families, and many experts believe that asthma is connected to acid reflux, because approximately more than half of asthmatics also have GERD. However, it is not known if asthma causes GERD, or if GERD is the cause of asthma in these individuals. It is possible that an asthma attack triggers pressure changes in the chest, which may encourage acid reflux.

Obesity – many medical studies have found obesity to have an hereditary link, and other studies have linked obesity as a risk factor for acid reflux and GERD. Excess body fat compresses on the stomach and can force stomach contents backup the esophagus. Those with obesity are also more prone to hernias, poor eating habits, and ingesting foods high in fat which trigger acid reflux. However, the precise link between obesity and GERD has yet to be discovered.

Other factors that may not be directly linked to your genetics, but are family factors that probably influenced your lifestyle include:

Food intolerance/Food allergies – acid reflux can be a symptom of food intolerance, or a food allergy, two issues that may run in your family. If you suffer from food intolerance, such as dairy intolerance, you are usually unable to digest those foods due to the lack of particular enzymes. On the other hand, if you have a food allergy, such as an allergy to shellfish, your body may overact and have a hypersensitive reaction to the substance you are allergic too. In both cases, acid reflux can be a resulting symptom of your body’s inability to digest foods due to allergy or intolerance.

Poor diet and eating habits: In many cases, the foods we eat, the amount of food we eat, and the way we eat our food, stems from our childhood and our parent’s eating habits. If you grew up eating spicy food, fried fatty foods, or foods high in fat, your chances of following this eating pattern is high, increasing the likelihood of acid reflux. Likewise, if you grew up eating large meals, and eating before bed, your acid reflux risk is also high.

Age – Although acid reflux typically occurs in matured adults, as the older we get the greater the risk there is of developing it, acid reflux is a condition that does not discriminate and can affect any woman, man or child of any ethnicity, at any time during their life. However, it is believed that genetic factors are ones of the causes of GERD in children and young adults who experience frequent cases of acid reflux and GERD.

Acid Reflux Treatment

If you are suffering from acid reflux, GERD or heartburn most doctors will recommend some form of prescription medication to combat the symptoms you are experiencing. The problem with this approach is apart from being expensive, most medications prescribed for acid reflux, heartburn and GERD are not designed for long term use and tend to mask the problem rather than addressing it.

For reliable acid reflux, heartburn and GERD treatment information that focuses on preventing and controlling symptoms naturally, read Stop Acid Reflux Now; an easy to follow, comprehensively researched downloadable book by Kathryn Whittaker.

Stop Acid Reflux Now shows you how to easily take control of your acid reflux, heartburn and GERD symptoms through the use of effective natural methods that avoid the need for expensive medications. Read how some really simple lifestyle changes can have a huge positive effect on your health, enhancing the quality of your life.