Acid reflux is common, but when it becomes chronic and severe, it’s usually caused by GERD. Research shows that genetics play a role in developing this condition.

Acid reflux is a fairly common digestive problem. It occurs when stomach content moves back into the esophagus, leading to a burning sensation in the chest called heartburn.

When acid reflux is chronic and severe, it’s usually a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In the United States, 18.1% to 27.8% of people have GERD, with a slightly higher incidence in males.

Read on to learn more about what the research says on the genetics of acid reflux and GERD.

GERD is a more severe form of acid reflux, which means you experience symptoms like heartburn more frequently. This can lead to serious health problems if not treated. This includes acid reflux, which is when the muscle at the end of the esophagus (the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES) doesn’t close tightly enough.

The LES is supposed to open for a very short period of time when you swallow. If it fails to close properly or relaxes too frequently, digestive juices and stomach content can move back into the esophagus.

The exact cause of acid reflux isn’t known, but certain factors can trigger the condition. This includes obesity, certain foods, as well as alcohol and smoking. There may also be genetic triggers.

There is abundant evidence showing a link between our genes and acid reflux or GERD.

Studies in people with acid reflux symptoms and GERD have identified common markers in our DNA associated with acid reflux.

Does acid reflux run in families?

Research suggests that GERD does run in families. According to a 2018 review, numerous studies on twins and families show that GERD has a heritability of about 31%. Other research suggests it could be as high as 43%.

Genetic factors

Both genetic variations (alleles) and different types of genes may increase the chance of developing GERD.

For example, the FOX1 gene affects the growth of smooth muscle in your stomach. Problems with this gene can lead to structural issues with the LES and could potentially trigger GERD.

A 2019 study also suggests that 91% of the alleles known to be associated with GERD are also associated with conditions that can occur with GERD, such as Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal adenocarcinoma.

Another 2021 study also identified 88 new loci associated with GERD. A locus is a specific location of a gene or DNA sequence on a chromosome.

Many of these loci are also associated with factors such as obesity and depression, which contributes evidence of genetic underpinnings to these risk factors for GERD.

Your genetics may predispose you to develop GERD, but treatment can help prevent it from becoming chronic or severe. In some cases, it may even be possible to cure, though relapses are possible.

Without treatment, the chance of serious complications is much higher. This includes severe chest pain, narrowing of the esophagus, Barrett’s esophagus, or cancer of the esophagus.

In most cases, like diet changes can help you control occasional bouts of acid reflux. Several OTC medications are available at your local drugstore to treat occasional symptoms, and doctors can prescribe medications such as:

Read more: Is it possible to cure gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)?

Acid reflux is a common issue with the digestive system, where stomach contents flow back into the esophagus and cause a burning sensation in the chest, known as heartburn.

Chronic and severe cases of acid reflux are usually indicators of a more serious condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Extensive research has shown a correlation between our genetic makeup and the development of acid reflux or GERD. GERD seems to run in families, and certain genetic markers have been identified that are linked to this condition.