Gastric reflux linked to risk of heart issues

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A recent study has found a significant link between gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and an increased risk of atrial fibrillation (AF), a common and potentially serious heart rhythm disorder. The gastric reflux and AF research, conducted by researchers from the Aerospace Center Hospital in Beijing, was published in Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine.

Understanding GERD and AF

GERD is a digestive disorder where stomach acid frequently flows back into the oesophagus, causing irritation and discomfort. On the other hand, atrial fibrillation (AF) is a condition characterised by rapid and irregular beating of the atria, and the upper chambers of the heart. AF can lead to serious complications, including heart failure and stroke.

The study’s approach

The study utilised a two-sample Mendelian randomization technique to explore the potential causal relationship between GERD and AF. This method leverages genetic data to help determine causation rather than just correlation. The researchers used data from two large genome-wide association studies (GWAS). The first GWAS included 602,604 individuals and focused on genetic variants associated with GERD. The second GWAS involved 1.03 million participants and examined genetic variations related to AF.

Key findings

The researchers found a significant association between genetically predicted GERD and an increased incidence of AF. Specifically, they identified 76 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that indicated a higher risk of AF in individuals with GERD. The odds ratio was 1.165, suggesting a 16.5% increased risk of AF for those genetically predisposed to GERD.

gastric reflux
Photo by Kevin Kandlbinder on Unsplash

Implications for treatment

The study’s findings suggest that early treatment of GERD might reduce the risk of developing AF. This is a critical insight as it underscores the importance of managing GERD not just for gastrointestinal health but also for heart health.

GERD and AF: The biological link

GERD and AF share several risk factors, such as obesity, sleep apnea, and chronic inflammation. These common factors likely contribute to the observed link between the two conditions. The researchers also highlighted that GERD can lead to local inflammation in the oesophagus, which might play a role in the development of AF.

What is Mendelian randomisation?

Mendelian randomisation is a research method that uses genetic variants as tools to assess the causal effects of a risk factor on disease. It helps overcome some limitations of traditional observational studies by minimising confounding factors and reverse causation.

Previous observational studies

Earlier observational studies had indicated a potential link between GERD and AF, but these studies often had conflicting results and were prone to biases. The current study, with its robust Mendelian randomization approach, provides stronger evidence supporting a causal relationship between GERD and AF.

Why this matters

Understanding the connection between gastric reflux and AF can lead to better preventive measures and treatments. For instance, managing GERD effectively might help reduce the incidence of AF, thereby lowering the risk of related complications like stroke and heart failure.

gastric reflux
Photo taken from Weill Cornell Medicine

Future research

While the current study provides compelling evidence of a link between GERD and AF, further research is needed. Large-scale intervention trials and prospective cohort studies could help confirm these findings and explore the underlying biological mechanisms in greater detail.


GERD is more than just a digestive disorder; it could have significant implications for heart health. This study highlights the importance of addressing gastric reflux promptly to potentially reduce the risk of developing atrial fibrillation, offering a new perspective on the management of both conditions.

If you have been suffering from GERD for a long time and have been on Proton-Pump Inhibitors for a duration longer than 3 years, we strongly recommend a health screening of your heart and kidney functions. To schedule a comprehensive heart and kidney screening with experienced medical specialists, contact Phuket Surgery, the leading global medical concierge.


Dr. Nikhil Prasad

Dr. Nikhil Prasad is an independent researcher, medical, pharma and health PR consultant, herbalists and phytochemical specialists and a medical and health writer for numerous international publications and sites including his own sites such as Thailand Medical News. He is based either at Sydney, New York, Shanghai, Mumbai or Bangkok.

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