London: There has been a 50 percent spike in people suffering from acid reflux over the last decade, a new study has found and suggested that obesity could be the driving factor behind the surge.
Acid reflux, in which acid from the stomach leaks into the gullet, or oesophagus, causing heartburn, has been linked to obesity, diets high in fatty foods, alcohol and smoking.
The proportion of people suffering from it rose from 11.6 percent in 1995-97 to 17.1 percent in 2006-09, found the new study of almost 30,000 people in Norway.
According to the study, published in medical journal Gut, women are more at risk than men of developing the condition, known as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. Middle-aged people suffer the most severe symptoms, the researchers said.
Concern is mounting because the condition can trigger oesophageal cancer, which is also on the rise, they said.
"The increasing prevalence of acid reflux is alarming, because it will most likely contribute to the increasing incidence of cancer of the oesophagus," the researcher said.
Dr Hugh Barr of the British Society of Gastroenterology`s oesophageal section said occasional reflux affects as many as one in five people. But persistent episodes of heartburn should be investigated, he said.
"Having indigestion after a curry isn`t necessarily a cause for concern and about half of those with persistent reflux will not have any damage to their gullet," Prof Barr said was quoted as saying by an English newspaper.
"But we need to identify earlier people at risk of what is an epidemic of this type of cancer, and one that has so recently killed the writer Christopher Hitchens."
Reflux sufferers are advised to lose weight or given acid-suppressing drugs. Experts say that by not smoking or drinking alcohol, and by choosing a healthy diet, most of the oesophageal cancer cases could be prevented.