Background: Most previous studies of reflux symptom prevalence are of small sample size. No reliable data concerning age- and sex-stratified prevalence are available.
Methods: Among 65,363 adult participants in a public health survey in Nord-Trondelag, Norway, 58,596 (90%) responded concerning occurrence and severity of heartburn or regurgitation during the past 12 months. The prevalence of minor, severe and any reflux symptoms was calculated, including stratification for age and sex. In order to examine whether the relative risk of reflux symptoms between sexes, in different age groups, was affected by other potential risk factors for reflux, confounding effects were tested using multivariate logistic regression. Odds ratios and their 95% confidence intervals were used to estimate relative risks.
Results: Total prevalence of reflux symptoms was 31.4%, whereof 26.0% were minor symptoms and 5.4% severe symptoms. The prevalence of symptoms occurring at least weekly was 11.6%. Among women, the prevalence increased gradually from 22.1% in the youngest age category to 37.5% in the oldest, while among men it gradually increased from 25.8% in the youngest age group to peak at 36.0% between the ages of 50 and 60 years, after which it declined to 33.8% after age 70. A higher prevalence among women compared to men in the oldest age groups was not explained by confounding by body mass, tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption, dietary factors, or physical exercise.
Conclusions: About every third adult person suffered from reflux symptoms. The prevalence increases linearly with age among women, while among men it peaked between the age of 50 and 70 years and thereafter declined.