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9 Regurgitation Causes, Symptoms & Treatment Options

Regurgitation is experienced by many people who may have acid reflux (GERD), conditions that affect the tissue lining of the esophagus, or indigestion. Read below for more information on causes of regurgitating and how to stop regurgitation.

Symptoms of regurgitation

You've just enjoyed a fabulous meal. You were presented with a magnificent selection of desserts and enjoyed your fair share of each. But then, it happens. You try and stop it but you're powerless. You regurgitate.

Our fictional story puts a lighter spin on the condition, but for those who suffer from it, regurgitation is no laughing matter. Regurgitation is the term used to describe food or liquid moving back up from the stomach and exiting the mouth with minimal effort and nausea.

Common characteristics of regurgitation

If you're experiencing regurgitation, it can likely be described by the following:

Regurgitation is embarrassing but more importantly, repeated episodes can cause considerable damage to the delicate tissue in the throat. Finding the cause of your regurgitation symptoms is important for effective treatment.

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Causes of regurgitation

In some cases of consistent regurgitation, there is no known cause. However, there are several syndromes and conditions that could be behind the issue. Browse through some of the most common believed causes to see if you can find a link.

Rumination syndrome

Rumination syndrome is an uncommon condition where regurgitation occurs daily and after every meal. Its cause is unknown. It's more likely in infants and those with developmental disabilities.

Dysfunctions that cause regurgitation

Regurgitation may occur due to the following abnormalities:

  • Digestive issues: The most common explanation for regurgitation symptoms related to dysfunction is a digestive issue. GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is probably the most common but there are others.
  • Anatomy issues: Another common dysfunction is related to the esophageal sphincter. If its tonicity is anything other than normal, regurgitation is a common side effect.

Disorders that cause regurgitation

The following conditions may result in regurgitation.

  • Multiple sclerosis: There are a variety of disorders and conditions that can lead to regurgitation. Because of a lack of muscle control, multiple sclerosis is one.
  • Parkinson's disease: Though not the first symptom of the disease, regurgitation is not unheard of in those diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

It can be difficult to determine the cause behind your regurgitation on your own. Keep track of your symptoms and episodes and make an appointment with your doctor to narrow down potential causes and begin developing a treatment plan.

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Acid reflux disease (gerd)

GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) in infants refers to the passage of stomach contents into the throat causing troublesome symptoms, such as feeding intolerance, inadequate oral intake of calories and/or poor weight gain. Vomiting or visible regurgitation ..

Rumination syndrome

Rumination syndrome is a disorder in which recently swallowed food is effortlessly spit back up or regurgitated. This food is usually undigested and people with this condition either spit it out or chew it and swallow it again. It is typical to experience this regurgitation of f...

Barrett's esophagus

Barrett esophagus is a condition in which the tissue lining the esophagus changes. These changes occur after longstanding gastro-esophageal reflux. Symptoms of gastro-esophageal reflux can be regurgitation, heartburn. Barretts esophagus is associated with a risk of developing malignant esophageal disease.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: nausea, regurgitation, heartburn, sore throat, dry cough

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Indigestion (dyspepsia)

Indigestion, also called upset stomach, dyspepsia, or functional dyspepsia, is not a disease but a collection of very common symptoms. Note: Heartburn is a separate condition.

Common causes are eating too much or too rapidly; greasy or spicy foods; overdoing caffeine, alcohol, or carbonated beverages; smoking; and anxiety. Some antibiotics, pain relievers, and vitamin/mineral supplements can cause indigestion.

The most common symptoms are pain, discomfort, and bloating in the upper abdomen soon after eating.

Indigestion that lasts longer than two weeks, and does not respond to simple treatment, may indicate a more serious condition. Upper abdominal pain that radiates to the jaw, neck, or arm is a medical emergency.

Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination. If the symptoms began suddenly, laboratory tests on blood, breath, and stool may be ordered. Upper endoscopy or abdominal x-ray may be done.

For functional dyspepsia – "ordinary" indigestion – treatment and prevention are the same. Eating five or six smaller meals per day with lighter, simpler food; managing stress; and finding alternatives for some medications will provide relief.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: nausea, stomach bloating, dyspeptic symptoms, bloating after meals, vomiting

Symptoms that always occur with indigestion (dyspepsia): dyspeptic symptoms

Symptoms that never occur with indigestion (dyspepsia): vomiting (old) blood or passing tarry stools, rectal bleeding, bloody diarrhea, fever

Urgency: Self-treatment

Chronic gastritis

Gastritis is an inflammation of the lining of the stomach. "Chronic" means it is an ongoing condition that never improves.

The stomach normally contains strong acids to break down food. A layer of mucus lines the stomach to protect it. If the mucus lining is not healthy, the stomach itself can become inflamed.

A common cause of damage is the H. pylori bacteria. It spreads through food, water, and shared eating utensils.

Other causes are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or aspirin; drinking alcohol; or severe physical stress such as injury or major surgery. It may be also be an autoimmune response.

Symptoms include upper abdominal pain and discomfort, with nausea and vomiting. A medical provider should be seen if symptoms persist, as chronic gastritis can lead to ulcers, anemia, malnutrition, and continuing damage to the stomach.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and sometimes upper endoscopy or x-rays.

Treatment involves medications to reduce the amount of acid in the stomach, and treating any underlying cause such as H. pylori.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: nausea or vomiting, stomach bloating, loss of appetite, moderate abdominal pain, mild abdominal pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Functional dyspepsia/indigestion

Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a condition that causes pain or discomfort in the stomach after eating. In some cases, indigestion also causes heartburn, burping, and nausea. Indigestion or dyspepsia is a very common complaint and in most cases there is no serious underlying cause. This is when doctors call it 'functional'.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: stomach bloating, nausea, dyspeptic symptoms, bloating after meals, vomiting

Symptoms that always occur with functional dyspepsia/indigestion: dyspeptic symptoms

Symptoms that never occur with functional dyspepsia/indigestion: vomiting (old) blood or passing tarry stools, rectal bleeding, bloody diarrhea, fever

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Condition causing black or brown vomit

Vomiting coffee-ground like materials suggest that there is a slow bleed in the stomach. The blood turns black after some time in the stomach. You should see a doctor immediately!

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: black or brown vomit, severe pelvis pain

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Acute gastritis

When something interferes with the protective mechanisms of the stomach, a range of problems can occur from mild indigestion to deadly bleeding ulcers. Gastritis is an umbrella term for one of the most common problems, inflammation of the stomach lining.

Symptoms include nausea or vomiting,...

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Regurgitation treatments and relief

If left untreated, regurgitation can lead to serious complications. Unless you have an isolated episode, keep track of your episodes to relay accurate information to your doctor.

When regurgitation is an emergency

Seek immediate medical attention if:

But for most, scheduling an appointment with your regular doctor at your earliest convenience is safe.

At-home treatments for regurgitation

In the meantime, try these regurgitation treatments to lower the number of episodes you're having.

  • Lose weight: Even if you're just a few pounds overweight, losing anything excessive can reduce abdomen pressure and prevent gastric juices from traveling upwards.
  • Adjust your diet: Avoid certain types of foods, including anything fatty, spicy, or acidic. Coffee and carbonated beverages should also be avoided.
  • Avoid alcohol: Water is best when it comes to fighting regurgitation. Alcohol should be extremely limited or completely avoided.
  • Wear loose clothing: Avoid wearing tight pants or belts. You want the clothing around your stomach to be as loose as possible while still feeling confident in your style.

Keep in mind that most of these are related to preventing GERD symptoms, a common cause of regurgitation symptoms. They might not work for all causes.

For some, regurgitation is just an embarrassing part of life that happens on occasion. For others, it seriously affects their day-to-day activities and makes a normal life almost impossible. While there may not be a treatment plan that fits everyone, there are steps you can take to lessen your chances of experiencing a regurgitation episode.

FAQs about regurgitation

What is the difference between regurgitation and vomiting?

While this difference is not often clinically relevant for medical practitioners, it is used frequently for pets and small children. Regurgitation is the returning of food that has not yet reached the stomach to the mouth. Vomiting is the forceful return of stomach contents, including some amount of stomach acid to the mouth.

Can regurgitation cause shortness of breath?

Yes. Regurgitation if continual and forceful can cause shortness of breath because it is difficult to breathe while regurgitating. It can be exhausting to forcibly contract the muscles of the diaphragm to cause regurgitation. Shortness of breath that follows regurgitation in the absence of actual regurgitation may be unrelated, and should be monitored by a health professional. Less commonly but more worrisome is the aspiration (inhaling) of regurgitated material into the lungs. Aspiration of stomach contents can block the airways or cause pneumonia.

Why do I regurgitate after I eat?

A common cause of regurgitation or vomiting after eating, especially in children, is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It is caused by a loose sphincter at the opening that connects the esophagus and stomach. Stomach contents can move out of the stomach and into the esophagus where they are partially regurgitated.

Why am I regurgitating bile?

Regurgitation of bile may occur along with acid reflux. A yellow-greenish fluid may accompany the vomitus. Bile has little clinical significance as it can occur with both routine vomiting and stomach problems further down the digestive tract. If you are vomiting bile, you may have an infection causing aggressive vomiting, a blockage of your intestines, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

How does regurgitation affect digestive organs?

Regurgitation affects only the esophagus, stomach, and the portion of the small intestine nearest the stomach. The stomach acid from the vomitus can affect cells of the esophagus, causing metaplasia (change in cells), and early changes that may cause cancer later in life. It may also cause scarring of the esophagus and make it more difficult to swallow. The muscle contractions can cause stomach pain or upper abdominal pain as well.

Questions your doctor may ask about regurgitation

  • Do you have heartburn?
  • Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Do your symptoms start or get worse after a meal?
  • Are you burping more than usual?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

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