This Common Disease Is Often Mistaken For Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is one of the most uncomfortable gut issues. When excess stomach acid moves up your body via the esophageal tract, it can cause a burning sensation in your stomach, lower chest, and throat (via WebMD). However, you'd be surprised to know that acidity or heartburn is not always the reason for indigestion. Instead, it could be a symptom of rumination — a commonly misdiagnosed gut disorder.

Cleveland Clinic defines rumination syndrome as a disorder that causes food to regurgitate from the stomach back to the mouth. Unlike acid reflux, this food is untouched by the stomach acid, so it doesn't taste sour or bitter. Although it is a reflex that often happens unintentionally, rumination is a psychological disorder that develops habitually and not because of an underlying disease.

This disorder affects about 3.1% of the population across 26 countries, according to the findings of a 2021 study published in the journal Gastroenterology. The research further revealed that rumination syndrome mostly occurs in women between the ages of 30 to 60 years, and is more prevalent in people with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.

What does rumination disorder feel like?

Experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine explain that while normally people burp after eating and release gas, rumination syndrome causes undigested food to come back up. The initial symptoms of rumination often begin during childhood. You might notice that your child often feels nausea shortly after having a meal. They might either swallow the regurgitated food again or spit it out instantly.

The symptoms are quite similar to acid reflux, which is why it's often misdiagnosed as a gut disease such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). If you have rumination, you might feel full or heavy after meals, and there may be pressure build-up in the abdominal region that can be relieved only by regurgitation (via Mayo Clinic).

At times, your oral health may be affected as well, causing bad breath and tooth erosion. You may also experience rapid weight loss and have difficulty putting on weight, adds Mayo Clinic. Additionally, there may be signs of malnutrition in children. To prevent worst-case consequences, the best thing to do is to visit a doctor and start a treatment plan right away.