What causes regurgitation and how to treat it?

Symptom Database

Regurgitation is a common symptom that can occur in individuals of all ages, from infants to adults. It refers to the backward flow of stomach contents into the mouth or throat, often accompanied by a sour or bitter taste. While occasional regurgitation is normal, frequent or persistent regurgitation can be a cause for concern. In this article, we will explore the causes of regurgitation, its symptoms, and various treatment options available.

Causes of Regurgitation

Regurgitation can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Weak or relaxed lower esophageal sphincter (LES): The LES is a ring of muscle that acts as a valve between the esophagus and the stomach. When it doesn’t close properly, stomach acid and partially digested food can flow back into the esophagus, leading to regurgitation.
  • Hiatal hernia: This occurs when a portion of the stomach pushes through the diaphragm, causing the LES to function improperly and leading to regurgitation.
  • Pregnancy: Hormonal changes during pregnancy can relax the LES, increasing the likelihood of regurgitation.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Chronic acid reflux can cause regurgitation as a result of the weakened LES.
  • Obesity: Excess weight can put pressure on the stomach, leading to regurgitation.
  • Delayed gastric emptying: When the stomach takes longer than usual to empty its contents, regurgitation can occur.

Symptoms of Regurgitation

Regurgitation is often accompanied by other symptoms, which may include:

  • Heartburn: A burning sensation in the chest or throat.
  • Acid taste in the mouth: The regurgitated stomach contents can leave a sour or bitter taste.
  • Belching: Frequent burping may occur as a result of regurgitation.
  • Coughing or wheezing: The backward flow of stomach acid can irritate the airways, leading to coughing or wheezing.
  • Difficulty swallowing: Regurgitation can make it challenging to swallow food or liquids.

Treatment of Regurgitation

The treatment of regurgitation depends on its underlying cause. Here are some common approaches:

Lifestyle Changes

Simple lifestyle modifications can often alleviate regurgitation symptoms. These may include:

  • Eating smaller, more frequent meals to reduce pressure on the stomach.
  • Avoiding trigger foods and beverages that can worsen regurgitation, such as spicy or fatty foods, caffeine, and alcohol.
  • Quitting smoking, as it can weaken the LES and contribute to regurgitation.
  • Elevating the head of the bed to prevent stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus during sleep.


Over-the-counter antacids can provide temporary relief from regurgitation symptoms by neutralizing stomach acid. However, if regurgitation is caused by GERD, stronger medications may be necessary. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and H2 blockers can help reduce stomach acid production and promote healing of the esophagus.

Surgical Intervention

In severe cases of regurgitation that do not respond to lifestyle changes or medications, surgical intervention may be required. The most common procedure is fundoplication, where the upper part of the stomach is wrapped around the LES to strengthen it and prevent acid reflux.

Prevention and Management of Regurgitation

While regurgitation may not always be preventable, certain measures can help manage the condition:

  • Eating slowly and chewing food thoroughly to aid digestion and reduce the likelihood of regurgitation.
  • Avoiding lying down or bending over immediately after meals, as this can increase the risk of stomach acid flowing back into the esophagus.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight to reduce pressure on the stomach.
  • Managing stress, as it can contribute to regurgitation symptoms.

Regurgitation in Infants and Children

Regurgitation is common in infants and young children, often referred to as “spitting up.” In most cases, it is a normal part of their development and resolves on its own as they grow older. However, if regurgitation is accompanied by poor weight gain, irritability, or respiratory issues, it is essential to consult a pediatrician for further evaluation.


Regurgitation can be a bothersome symptom that affects individuals of all ages. By understanding its causes, recognizing the associated symptoms, and implementing appropriate treatment options, regurgitation can be effectively managed. Lifestyle changes, medications, and, in some cases, surgical intervention can provide relief and improve the quality of life for those experiencing regurgitation. If you or your child are experiencing persistent regurgitation, it is always advisable to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and personalized treatment plan.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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