GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease is ranked as the fourth most prevalent gastrointestinal disease. (1) The prevalence of symptoms increases linearly with age in women. (2) The overall incidence of heartburn, regurgitation, dysphasia, non-cardiac chest pain, cough and wheezing are similar for men and women.
However, research indicates the severity of symptoms is significantly more in women than in men. (3) The incidence in pregnancy exceeds 80 percent (4), with more than half of all pregnant women reporting symptoms, especially during the third trimester. (5)
What is GERD
GERD is a chronic digestive disease, which occurs when stomach contents, including food, stomach acid and occasionally bile, leak backwards from the stomach into the esophagus.
The lower esophageal sphincter, which is a circular band of muscle located at the very bottom of the esophagus, closes when you swallow. This action prevents food and digestive juices from refluxing into the esophagus. However, if the lower esophageal sphincter closes abnormally or weakens, stomach acid flows back into the esophagus causing irritation to the lining of the esophagus. (6)
Women and men share common risk factors which contribute to developing this disease. A hiatal hernia, which occurs when the upper part of the stomach and the lower esophageal sphincter move above the diaphragm, increases the chance of acid reflux. Obesity, smoking and respiratory diseases, such as asthma and COP, increase the risk for acid reflux.
Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to GERD, particularly during the third trimester as the growing uterus puts increasing pressure on the stomach. Sometimes, this forces stomach acid up into the esophagus. Hormones can cause the digestive system to slow down. Additionally, hormones cause the muscles which move food down the esophagus to slow down. (5)
Changes in dietary habits can help reduce symptoms. For non-pregnant women, maintaining a healthy weight eliminates the excess pounds which put pressure on the abdomen. All women with GERD benefit from eating several small meals each day instead of three large meals.