Regurgitation: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

The fluid flows through a vessel or valve in the body opposite to normal.

The alimentary tract extends from the mouth to the anus. Food or drink, once ingested, should only travel in one direction.

From the mouth, it passes to the throat with voluntary swallowing, and then the reflexes coordinate the involuntary processes that transport food or drinks through the esophagus.

It passes to the stomach, then to the small intestine, and, after passing through the large intestine, the remains are expelled as feces.

The contractions of the muscles in the intestine wall that facilitate the movement of substances inside are known as peristalsis.

Sometimes, the contents of the small intestine, stomach, esophagus, or throat can travel in the opposite direction, known as antiperistalsis.

If it is expelled by force, then it is known as vomiting. However, in some cases, the violent rash seen with vomiting is not present.


Instead, the contents fade rather passively than vomiting, known as regurgitation.

What is regurgitation?

Medical Definition

Regurgitation is the distribution of undigested or partially digested food or liquids expelled less forcefully than vomiting.

Although regurgitation and vomiting are used interchangeably, regurgitation is synonymous with the most widely used term, “reflux.”

It is usually limited to the content ingested in the last part of the throat, esophagus, and stomach. The contents that have passed into the small intestine can not be given in this passive manner and must be expelled forcefully through vomiting.

Depending on the site from which the contents are distributed, they can be mixed with mucus, water, or stomach acid. Sometimes, regurgitated contents can pass through the nose (nasal regurgitation) or even enter the respiratory tract (tracheal aspiration).

Vomiting occurs when there is irritation of the intestine. It can also result from abnormal stimulation of the muscles in the intestine in a way that allows for reverse peristalsis.

Contractions can start from as low as the first third of the small intestine and, therefore, all contents proximal to the origin can be expelled.

Regurgitation is more of a “spill” or “fluidity” phenomenon. It is associated with an altered swallowing reflex, weak peristaltic contractions, or poor coordination and dysfunction of certain valves, such as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).

These mechanisms usually ensure that food and drink ingested do not pass through the mouth again.

Regurgitation can frequently occur in babies and is not considered abnormal if the baby is healthy and prosperous.

This usually follows food and results from air trapped inside the intestine pushing up the ingested milk and the immature valves that allow the reflux of the gastric contents.


The typical “sick” feeling known as nausea that typically precedes vomiting is usually absent in regurgitation. Other symptoms depend mainly on the cause and the site from which the material is expelled.

When food and liquids in the stomach are regurgitated, as in the case of acid reflux, stomach acid can cause a burning sensation in the chest (heartburn).

A sour taste in the mouth often accompanies it. If the content is expelled from a higher place in the intestine, where significant digestion has not occurred, there may be some degree of drowning.

Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) is a common characteristic that accompanies specific regurgitation causes.

When normal peristalsis is altered, a person may also complain of pressure in the chest or a feeling of swelling as food is not pushed through the esophagus.

Causes of regurgitation

The causes of regurgitation may not differ significantly from those of vomiting. Many reasons overlap, and it is not uncommon for regurgitation to be reported as vomiting and vice versa.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease: The most common cause of regurgitation is a lower esophageal sphincter (LES) dysfunction that also explains chronic acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Reflux or regurgitation is most prominent when lying down, after eating, and during activity. In more severe cases, even leaning forward or even belching can cause reflux when gastric contents enter the esophagus and even reach the mouth.

Upper gastrointestinal obstruction: An obstruction can occur in any part of the intestine and may arise as a result of a mass (inside or outside the intestine), stenosis (abnormal narrowing), excessive and prolonged contraction of the intestinal muscle (spasm), or a foreign body.

The site of the blockage may be the laryngopharynx, the esophagus, or the stomach. However, a backup lower than the intestine can contribute to regurgitation since the contents are supported to prevent the recently ingested food and drink from passing through the intestine.

Lower esophageal sphincter: Lower esophageal sphincter dysfunction, either increased or decreased tonicity, may contribute to regurgitation.

Under GERD, the decreased tonicity allows the gastric contents to empty into the esophagus.

However, in conditions such as achalasia, the muscles that make up the LES remains contracted and restrict the passage of food to the stomach.

Food accumulates in the esophagus as it enters the stomach very slowly. However, regurgitation will be a prominent feature of a large food intake or many intestine complications (achalasia).

Neuromuscular disorders: Swallowing and peristalsis is a carefully coordinated process controlled by the nerves and facilitated by the muscles.

If there is any interruption due to disease or dysfunction of nerves or muscles or even both, regurgitation may be present.

These diseases must affect the nerves and muscles of swallowing, including the centers in the brain that are responsible for this mechanism.

Certain medications can also affect the regular activity of the muscles and nerves. Some causes may include:

  • Stroke.
  • Gastroparesis.
  • Myasthenia gravis.
  • Multiple sclerosis.
  • Disorders of the motor neuron.
  • Muscular dystrophy.
  • Parkinson’s disease


If regurgitation is not present because of a significant condition, it can be controlled or eliminated with changes in inhabit and medication.

Lifestyle changes:

  • Raise the head of the bed by placing a block under the foot of the bed to raise the headboard to about 20 cm.
  • Go to bed no less than two hours after eating.
  • Avoid eating large amounts of food.
  • Avoid alcohol, sodas, spicy foods, fried foods, etc.
  • Avoid the cigar.


Your doctor may recommend medications such as antacids. It can also recommend using h2 blockers; these decrease the production of acid.