What causes regurgitation of food and how can it be treated?

Symptom Database

Regurgitation is a common symptom that many people experience after eating. It refers to the involuntary return of food from the stomach back into the mouth. This can be an uncomfortable and embarrassing experience, but understanding the causes and treatment options can help manage and prevent regurgitation.

Causes of Regurgitation

Regurgitation can occur due to various reasons, including:

  • Weak or relaxed lower esophageal sphincter (LES): The LES is a muscular ring that separates the esophagus from the stomach. When it is weak or relaxed, it fails to close properly, allowing stomach contents to flow back up.
  • Hiatal hernia: This condition occurs when a portion of the stomach pushes through the diaphragm, causing the LES to malfunction.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): GERD is a chronic condition where stomach acid frequently flows back into the esophagus, leading to regurgitation.
  • Pregnancy: Hormonal changes during pregnancy can relax the LES, resulting in regurgitation.
  • Obesity: Excess weight can put pressure on the stomach, leading to regurgitation.
  • Eating too quickly or overeating: Consuming large meals or eating too quickly can overwhelm the stomach, causing it to regurgitate food.

Symptoms of Regurgitation

Regurgitation is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as:

  • Heartburn: A burning sensation in the chest or throat.
  • Acid taste in the mouth: The regurgitated food may leave a sour or bitter taste in the mouth.
  • Belching: Excessive burping may occur as the body tries to expel the excess air swallowed during regurgitation.
  • Chest pain: Some individuals may experience chest discomfort or pain.
  • Bad breath: The regurgitated food can contribute to unpleasant breath odor.

Treatment and Management of Regurgitation

While regurgitation can be bothersome, there are several treatment and management options available:

Lifestyle Changes

Implementing certain lifestyle modifications can significantly reduce the frequency and severity of regurgitation:

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals: Opting for smaller portions can prevent overloading the stomach and reduce the likelihood of regurgitation.
  • Avoid trigger foods: Certain foods, such as spicy or fatty foods, citrus fruits, and chocolate, can trigger regurgitation. Identifying and avoiding these triggers can help manage symptoms.
  • Elevate the head while sleeping: Raising the head of the bed by using pillows or a wedge can prevent stomach contents from flowing back into the esophagus during sleep.
  • Quit smoking: Smoking weakens the LES and increases the risk of regurgitation. Quitting smoking can improve symptoms and overall health.
  • Manage stress: Stress can exacerbate regurgitation symptoms. Engaging in stress-reducing activities, such as exercise, meditation, or hobbies, can help manage symptoms.


In some cases, medications may be prescribed to alleviate regurgitation symptoms:

  • Antacids: Over-the-counter antacids can neutralize stomach acid and provide temporary relief from regurgitation.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): PPIs reduce the production of stomach acid, helping to prevent regurgitation.
  • H2 blockers: These medications decrease the production of stomach acid, providing relief from regurgitation symptoms.

Surgical Intervention

If lifestyle changes and medications do not effectively manage regurgitation, surgical intervention may be considered:

  • Fundoplication: This procedure involves wrapping the upper part of the stomach around the LES to strengthen it and prevent regurgitation.
  • Hiatal hernia repair: If a hiatal hernia is causing regurgitation, surgery may be performed to repair the hernia and restore normal function.

Prevention and Remedies

Preventing regurgitation involves adopting healthy habits and making conscious choices:

  • Chew food thoroughly: Taking the time to chew food properly aids digestion and reduces the risk of regurgitation.
  • Avoid lying down immediately after eating: Remaining upright for at least two hours after a meal can prevent stomach contents from flowing back into the esophagus.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Losing excess weight can alleviate pressure on the stomach and reduce regurgitation.
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing: Wearing loose-fitting clothes around the waist can prevent unnecessary pressure on the stomach.
  • Stay hydrated: Drinking enough water throughout the day helps maintain proper digestion and prevents regurgitation.

Regurgitation can be an uncomfortable and disruptive symptom, but with the right approach, it can be effectively managed and prevented. By implementing lifestyle changes, taking medications as prescribed, and considering surgical options when necessary, individuals can find relief from regurgitation and improve their overall quality of life.

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