The proportion of people suffering acid reflux has jumped almost 50% in a decade, research suggests.
The condition has been linked to obesity, diets high in fatty foods, alcohol and smoking, and is associated with an increased risk of oesophageal (gullet) cancer.
However, some people develop acid reflux for no known reason while others have a problem with the muscle at the bottom of their oesophagus.
Symptoms of the condition, known in full as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (Gord), include heartburn, an unpleasant sour taste in the mouth caused by stomach acid coming back up, and difficulty swallowing.
Today’s research, of almost 30,000 people in Norway, found women seem to develop the condition more than men, while severe symptoms tend to affect the middle-aged to a greater extent.
Between 1995/7 and 2006/9 the prevalence of acid reflux symptoms rose 30%, while that of severe symptoms rose by 24%, according to the study.
And the prevalence of acid reflux symptoms experienced at least once a week rose by 47%.
Women under 40 were the least likely to have any acid reflux, but were more likely to develop symptoms as they aged.
The prevalence was stable among men, regardless of their age.
Almost all of those with severe acid reflux experienced symptoms and/or used medication to treat them at least once a week, compared with around one in three (31%) of those with mild symptoms.
Acid reflux symptoms can spontaneously disappear without medication, but this happened to just over 2% of those with symptoms each year during the study.
Women under 40 were the most likely group to have their symptoms disappear of their own accord.
The researchers, from Norway, Sweden and King’s College London, said: “The increasing prevalence of [acid reflux] is alarming, because it will most likely contribute to the increasing incidence of (cancer) of the oesophagus in the western population.”