What Are the Causes of GERD?
There are two root causes of GERD: those that are chemical in nature and those that stem from anatomical dysfunction. Chemical causes of GERD can include:
- inability of the esophagus to tolerate refluxed materials from the stomach
- tissue sensitivities due to natural low acid intolerance, medication use, or ingested substances such as alcohol and tobacco
However, in the majority of cases the cause of GERD is anatomical in nature.
When a person with normal, healthy anatomy swallows, the valve between the esophagus and the stomach (gastroesophageal valve) opens in order to allow food to pass. The valve then closes to prevent stomach contents from backwashing or refluxing back up into the esophagus. A normal, healthy valve serves as an effective antireflux barrier and is considered to be the most important factor in preventing GERD.
For people with GERD, this valve becomes dysfunctional and does not close appropriately. This allows abnormal amounts of both acidic and non-acidic fluids to backwash into the esophagus.
What Causes the Gastroesophageal Valve to Become Dysfunctional?
Any one of the following factors, or a combination of these factors, can result in disruption of the gastroesophageal valve and abnormal exposure of the esophagus to acid reflux.
- Genetic: Anatomy varies from person to person; some people naturally have valves that function less competently than others.
- Injury to the upper chest: Often the result of a sports-related injury or a traumatic accident, these incidents can cause the valve to lose its shape.
- Obesity or diet related issues: Excess weight can cause distortion of normal anatomy.
- Age: As people age, musculature can lose its integrity and affect the anatomy in the esophagus and stomach area.