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For women, weight gain spells heartburn

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6:42pm, June 6, 2006
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A study of more than 10,000 women suggests that weight gain is associated with heartburn.

Furthermore, while previous research had linked obesity with heartburn, a report in the June 1 New England Journal of Medicine indicates that any woman above her ideal body weight has an increased risk of such symptoms.

Heartburn and acid regurgitation are the two main symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which affects one in five people in the United States weekly and costs the health care industry $10 billion a year.

"Any excess body fat carries with it an extra risk of having heartburn," says Brian Jacobson, who led the study at the Boston Medical Center. For example, he says, a 5-foot-6-inch woman weighing 140 pounds, though not considered overweight, has a 40 percent higher risk of having heartburn than a woman of the same height who weighs 125 pounds.

Moreover, women who had gained a substantial amount of weight—22 or more pounds for that 5-foot-6-inch woman, for example—were more than twice as likely to experience symptoms of GERD as they did before the weight gain.

One reason for the increased heartburn, says Jacobson, could be that fat increases pressure on the stomach, which forces acid into the esophagus, where heartburn pain originates.

The researchers drew their conclusions from responses to questionnaires completed in 2000 by registered nurses as part of the Nurses' Health Study. Jacobson is now studying similar data in men.

The drug company Janssen-Eisai, which makes the antacid Aciphex, funded part of the study.

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