Does Being Overweight Increase the Chance of Having Heartburn?

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One question that is often asked is: Does being overweight Increase the chance of having heartburn?

There have been studies that have shown that being overweight, especially around your middle, can increase your chance of experiencing heartburn. This increases your risk for a number of reasons:

  • There is more pressure against your stomach
  • With this increased pressure on the stomach, stomach contents may be pressing against the lower esophageal sphincter (LES)
  • If there is increased pressure against the LES, it may open when it shouldn't, and can allow stomach acid and other stomach contents to back up into the esophagus

Does this mean if you lose weight you'll never experience heartburn again? Not necessarily, especially if your heartburn is caused by other conditions, such as Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or if certain foods trigger your heartburn. There are also people who suffer from heartburn who have never been overweight. But if you are overweight or obese, losing weight is good for you even if the heartburn episodes don't entirely disappear. Studies have found when patients lose even 5 to 10 percent of their excess weight, they begin to have fewer heartburn episodes.

Other factors that may contribute to GERD include:

  • Pregnancy
    Heartburn during pregnancy occurs for a number of reasons. Increased levels of hormones in your body while pregnant can soften the ligaments that normally keep the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) tightly closed. more pressure is put on your stomach as your body changes and your baby grows. This, in turn, can force stomach contents through the LES and into your esophagus.
  • Alcohol use
    Alcohol increases the production of stomach acid. Alcohol also relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), allowing stomach contents to reflux back up into the esophagus. When the LES relaxes, it causes swallowing contractions to become erratic. Alcohol can also make the esophagus more sensitive to stomach acid
  • Smoking
    Cigarette smoking slows the production of saliva, one of your body's defenses against damage to the esophagus. Smoking stimulates the production of stomach acid. Smoking can weaken and relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is a valve at the junction between esophagus and stomach. If the LES isn't working properly or relaxes inappropriately, stomach contents can reflux back up into the esophagus. Smoking may directly injure the esophagus, making it even more susceptible to further damage from acid reflux. Studies have shown that smokers have decreased gastric motility (digestion) while smoking, which can cause less efficient digestion because the stomach takes longer to empty.

Also, certain foods can be associated with reflux events, including:

  • Fried (greasy) foods
  • High fat meats
  • Butter and margarine
  • Mayonnaise
  • Creamy sauces
  • Salad dressings
  • Whole-milk dairy products
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint
  • Caffeinated beverages (e.g. soft drinks, coffee, tea, cocoa)
  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Alcohol
  • Spicy foods
  • Black pepper
  • Citrus fruit and juices (e.g. orange, grapefruit)
  • Tomato juice

You can learn more about weight loss by going to's site on Weight Loss.

Related information:


"Information You Cann Stomach - Facts & Fallacies about Heartburn and GERD" The American College of Gastroenterology

Rinzler, Carol, and Ken DeVault, MD. Heartburn & Reflux for Dummies. Wiley Publishing, Inc, 2004.

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