Study describes serious digestive problem that is often misdiagnosed

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  • Rumination syndrome is a condition characterised by unintentional regurgitation of recently eaten food
  • Experts have found the condition is often misdiagnosed
  • A new study clearly describes and distinguishes the condition from other gastrointestinal disorders

Rumination syndrome is a condition characterised by the unintentional regurgitation of food without any known cause, which is often confused with other gastrointestinal conditions such as gastroparesis. 

This led to researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital attempting to clear up the confusion surrounding the condition by conducting a study aimed at clearly describing the condition and differentiating it from other gastrointestinal disorders.

Unconscious regurgitation

Individuals with rumination syndrome tend to repeatedly (and unintentionally) regurgitate undigested or partially digested food, chew it again and then either swallow it or spit it out. Experts have classified the condition as a learned behavioural problem, where relaxing the diaphragm becomes a habit, but instead of burping, the reflex action brings up food. 

The condition has also been linked to discomfort or inner tension building up, which eventually leads to patterns of regurgitating for relief.

“This condition causes a lot of embarrassment and may stop people from eating with others,” explained co-lead author, Trisha Satya Pasricha. “It is not well understood, and is often mistaken for other disorders.”

Screening patients with gastric symptoms

Pasricha and colleagues included 242 patients who were referred for gastric symptom speciality evaluation in their study. The researchers obtained demographic information of the patients and also screened them for rumination.

They found that 31 of the patients met the criteria for rumination, with 48% of them reporting difficulty in social situations due to their condition. 

When the team compared individuals who had the condition to those without it, they couldn’t find any differences in terms of race, gender, occurrence of diabetes or gastroparesis. 

"There is little demographically that distinguishes these patients other than their tendency to regurgitate when eating,” said Pasricha. “They are not more likely to have a history of an eating disorder or weight problems.”

The researchers did note that patients with rumination tend to experience heartburn, and that screening for heartburn as well as regurgitation could help to diagnose the condition.

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