Preventing abdominal obesity in the elderly population can reduce the risk of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and the need for medical support, research suggests.

A new report finds that a high waist-to-hip (WHR) ratio combined with aging increases the risk of GERD.

Obesity has often been associated with an increase in the risk of GERD symptoms but researchers say abdominal obesity (also called central obesity) relates more to reflux symptoms than peripheral deposition of fat.

To define abdominal obesity, one can use a waist circumference of more than 88 cm (35 inches) in women and more than 102 cm (40 inches) in men.

Firstly, the study, recently published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, observed a trend that a higher proportion of participants with older age presented with GERD. It also documented a higher proportion of participants with high WHR presenting with GERD.

The risk of GERD was higher in participants who were an older age or higher WHR than in those without either condition.

Age changes

The study explains that elderly individuals undergo lifestyle changes that exacerbate reflux, including reduced mobility, the development of obesity, an increased sedentary lifestyle, and increased recumbency due to comorbid illness, such as cerebrovascular disease, dementia, and pulmonary disease.

Obesity connection

The study suggests that there are several hypotheses that could explain the association between central obesity and GERD.

  • The lower oesophageal sphincter acts as a physiological barrier and prevents refluxing gastric contents to the oesophagus. A higher WHR increases intra-gastric pressure leading to a relaxation of the lower oesophageal sphincter.
  • Hiatal hernia formation and enlargement is another possible explanation for GERD.

The study concluded that aging combined with high WHR will increase the risk of GERD and affect the quality of life of elderly individuals. Because aging is an unavoidable event, avoiding abdominal obesity is very important in the care of elderly individuals.

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