Acid Reflux When You’re Older and Wiser

By Patricia Raymond, Michelle Beaver

Acid reflux is more common in senior populations than in other demographics, but statistics vary as to just how common it is. Just as acid reflux is different in infants than it is in kids, acid reflux is different in younger adults than it is in older adults.

For one thing, acid reflux in older adults can be much more dangerous and lead to more complications. The main symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) for younger adults is usually regurgitation. For the older and wiser among us, however, common symptoms can also include

  • Asthma

  • Chest pain

  • Chronic cough

  • Dental problems

  • Indigestion or upset stomach

  • Stricture with dysphagia (food getting trapped in the esophagus)

  • Vomiting

Older people with GERD may have upper-gastrointestinal bleeding, esophageal strictures, Barrett’s esophagus, or esophageal cancer as a result. The most common GERD complication for seniors is esophagitis (inflammation or shallow ulcers of the esophagus). Esophagitis is about three times more common in the elderly than in younger populations.

Because GERD is more dangerous for older people than younger people, older folks and their doctors need to treat it more aggressively. The treatment options are similar as for other groups: diet, lifestyle changes, medication, and surgery.