Research has shown that people who are stressed are more sensitive to discomfort of gastric acid in the esophagus. Studies in animals have shown that over time, stress can weaken the ability of the esophagus to withstand acid reflux. Other research has shown that people who don't sleep well are more bothered by acid reflux. The lack of sleep lowers the "sensory threshold" for pain.
"The study offers a very interesting and potentially very meaningful observation," Johnson said. "We do know that stress does have a relationship to GERD."
Researchers looked at records of 697 World Trade Center rescue, recovery and clean-up workers who were examined in 2005 and 2007 as part of the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment program, which follows and treats several thousand Ground Zero workers, many of whom have suffered persistent mental health and respiratory ailments.
"It's not as readily apparent as to why they would have a gastrointestinal problem," Luft said. "Though as a result of being there, when you are exposed to a tremendous amount of dust, a lot of what goes into your mouth, nose and lungs is also swallowed and can enter the gastrointestinal tract as well."
One explanation for some of the respiratory ailments is that the dust at Ground Zero was extremely alkaline, or acidic, and may have damaged the lining of the mucosal membranes. Something similar could have happened to the membranes of the gastrointestinal tract, Luft said.
The study also found that smoking and obesity, known risk factors for GERD, did not increase the risk of GERD, while spending a lot of time at Ground Zero did.
In a second study to be presented at the meeting, researchers found that active-duty military who were exposed to infectious gastroenteritis were more like
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