The HUNT Study: Changes in Occurrence of Acid Reflux Symptoms

The details of this study were first published in the international peer reviewed journal GUT on 21 December 2011.  The co-authors of the study are:

  • Eivind Ness-Jensen from the HUNT Research Centre, Department for Public Health and General Practice, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Levanger, Norway.
  • Anna Lindam from the Department of Internal Medicine, Levanger Hospital, Nord-Trøndelag Hospital Trust, Levanger, Norway
  • Jesper Lagergren from  the Department of Molecular Medicine and Surgery, Upper Gastrointestinal Research, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
  • Kristian Hveem from the Division of Cancer Studies, King’s College London, United Kingdom

Purpose of the Study

The study wanted to observe and measure any changes in the occurrence and severity of the acid reflux symptoms associated with GERD/GORD and the spontaneous disappearance of these symptoms.

Design of the Study

The study was conducted as part of the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study (the HUNT study), a population based health survey carried out on the adult residents of Nord-Trøndelag County who reported on the extent to which they had suffered reflux symptoms in the preceding year and 29,610 of the adults survey were studied over a period averaging eleven years.

Results of the Study

The results obtained between 1995 to 1997 were compared to the results obtained between 2006 to 2009 and these showed that:

  • Between the two periods the occurrence of:
  • any degree of reflux symptoms suffered increased by 30% from 31.4% to 40.9%),
  • severe reflux symptoms increased by 24% (from 5.4% to 6.7%)
  • at least weekly symptoms increased by 47% (from 11.6% to 17.1%)
  • This increase was apparent in both men and women and across all ages, although middle age appears to be when the most severe symptoms occurred
  • Unlike men women were more likely to develop reflux symptoms with age
  • Women under 40 were the least likely to have acid reflux
  • Women aged 60 to 69 were the most likely to have severe symptoms
  • 98% of those studied having severe symptoms used medication to treat them at least once a week, compared to only 31% of those with mild symptoms
  • The average annual rate of experiencing any acid reflux symptoms was just over 3%. For severe symptoms it was 0.23%
  • Acid reflux can spontaneously disappear without the help of medication, but in this study, this occurred each year in only 2% of those participants with symptoms
  • Women under 40 were the group most likely to experience spontaneous loss of symptoms without anti-reflux medication. And while there was a suggestion that this diminished with age in both sexes, it was most evident among women

Conclusion of the Study

Between 1995–7 and 2006–9 the prevalence of acid reflux symptoms increased substantially.

The authors concluded that “The increasing prevalence of [acid reflux symptoms] found in this study may call for a strengthened effort to investigate and treat this patient population, both due to the impact on health-related quality of life and the increasing incidence of adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus related to [acid reflux symptoms].”

The authors of the study now plan to see if losing weight would reduce the occurrence of acid reflux symptoms as they hope reducing the occurrence of these symptoms will help prevent the development of this difficult to treat cancer.

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