What Is Rumination Disorder?

woman eating food
Frank Van Delft/Cultura Exclusive/Getty Images

Rumination disorder involves bringing previously chewed or previously swallowed food back up to the mouth, to either spit out or re-swallow. It's also sometimes called regurgitation disorder.

In babies, rumination disorder usually ends without any medical intervention. But the condition also can last into later years. Most people who are treated for rumination disorder are children and adults with intellectual disabilities and/or developmental delays.

For these people, regurgitation and rumination seem to be soothing.

People who suffer from anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are also known to occasionally struggle with rumination behaviors as part of a strategy to avoid weight gain. 

It is important to remember that because these rumination behaviors are often done in secret and there is a fear of how others will react to it, it is assumed that many people who are struggling with this disorder do not seek treatment. Unfortunately, the true prevalence of rumination disorder is unknown.

Diagnosing Rumination Disorder

In order to meet the criteria for a diagnosis of rumination disorder, someone must meet all of the criteria for the condition outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), the guide that mental health professionals use to diagnose mental conditions. These criteria include:

  • Repeated regurgitation of food for at least one month.  This food may be re-chewed, re-swallowed, or spit-out.  The regurgitation occurs without any sort of nausea or retching.
  • If the symptoms are occurring alongside another mental disorder, the symptoms are severe enough to warrant attention by themselves.

Complications of Rumination Disorder

People who have rumination disorder can suffer from malnutrition, and that can lead to a host of other medical complications. Malnutrition may occur because rather than eating more food, the person is continuously eating and re-chewing the same food over and over again.

Older children and adults may also restrict what they are eating in order to avoid negative social reactions to their rumination. Less extreme complications of rumination disorder are bad breath, tooth decay, and ulcers on the esophagus. 

Unfortunately, there is very little research on the treatment of rumination disorder.  However, the treatment of these symptoms must be individualized to each person, based on whether or not there is another co-occurring disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, or if the person is intellectually delayed. 

If the person with rumination disorder also is suffering from another eating disorder, then treatment goals will focus on that problem, with the goal of reducing all symptoms related to the eating disorder.

  For a young child or someone who has an intellectual disability or delay, treatment will likely include some type of behavioral therapy and may include goals such as changing the way(s) the person is able to soothe themselves.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Clouse, R.E., Richter, J.E., Heading, R.C., Janssens, J., & Wilson, J.A. (1999). Functional esophageal disorders. Gut, 45. 1131-1136.

Hartmann, A.S., Becker, A.E., Hampton, C., & Bryant-Waugh, R. (2012). Pica and rumination disorder in the DSM-5. Psychiatric Annals, 42(11). 426-430.

Papadopoulos, V. & Mimidis, K. (2007). The rumination syndrome in adults: A review of the pathophysiology, diagnosis, and treatment. Journal of Postgraduate Medicine, 53(3). 203-206.

Continue Reading