Rumination disorder

Rumination disorder is when food is repeatedly regurgitated, swallowed, or spat out. Often overshadowed in the realm of eating disorders, the condition can cause significant distress, impacting your daily life in profound ways. The insidious nature of rumination disorder and the misunderstanding surrounding it make it particularly challenging and can make sufferers feel extremely isolated. Despite these challenges, there is a beacon of hope. At UKAT, we offer a path to rumination disorder recovery, helping you to navigate through this complex condition and regain control over your life.

What is rumination disorder?

Rumination disorder, also called rumination syndrome, is characterised by the chronic regurgitation of food following consumption. Unlike common misconceptions, this regurgitation is not due to a gastrointestinal condition like reflux; it is a repeated, often subconscious behaviour that can occur during or shortly after a meal. The act of regurgitating, re-chewing and either re-swallowing or spitting out food is involuntary and, regardless of its origins, can quickly become a habitual response to eating.

Rumination syndrome does not discriminate; it can affect individuals of any age, gender or background. However, the condition disorder is notably prevalent among infants, young children and individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Rumination disorder symptoms

Recognising the symptoms and signs of rumination disorder is a critical step towards seeking help and beginning the journey to recovery. This disorder manifests in a variety of ways, each symptom contributing to the complexity of the condition and its impact on your life. By understanding both the core and secondary symptoms, we can better comprehend the full scope of the disorder and the importance of early detection and rumination disorder treatment.

Core rumination disorder symptoms

  • Chronic regurgitation: The hallmark of rumination syndrome involves the involuntary return of partially digested food from the stomach to the mouth without nausea or disgust.
  • Repetitive chewing and re-swallowing: The food may be chewed or spit out after regurgitation.
  • Absence of gastrointestinal illness: Unlike conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), rumination syndrome does not stem from a physical illness.
  • Secondary rumination disorder symptoms

  • Weight loss or nutritional deficiencies: Due to the loss of nutrients from regurgitated food.
  • Stomach discomfort and indigestion: Frequent regurgitation can lead to digestive issues.
  • Dental problems: The acidity of stomach contents can erode tooth enamel, leading to cavities and other dental issues.
  • Halitosis (bad breath): A common consequence of the regurgitation process.
  • Both the core and secondary rumination disorder symptoms can have profound impacts on your physical health, emotional well-being and quality of life. Early detection not only aids in accurate rumination disorder diagnosis but also opens the door to timely and appropriate treatment strategies. If you or someone you know is exhibiting these symptoms, it is essential to approach the situation with empathy and seek professional help.

    Causes of rumination disorder

    Like many psychological and behavioural disorders, rumination syndrome arises from a combination of various factors. These factors can range from physiological to environmental, each playing a role in the onset and persistence of the disorder. They include:

    • Physical triggers: Sometimes, a physical illness or discomfort can initiate the rumination behaviour, which then becomes a learned response.
    • Psychological stressors: Emotional distress, anxiety or mental health challenges can contribute to the development of rumination disorder.
    • Behavioural conditioning: In some cases, what starts as an involuntary response can become habitual behaviour due to conditioning.
    • Neurological factors: Especially in children and those with intellectual disabilities, neurological differences might play a role in rumination syndrome’s onset.
    • Stressful life events: Significant changes or traumas can trigger or exacerbate rumination disorder.
    • Lack of stimulation: Particularly in infants, lack of engagement or stimulation during and after feeding can contribute to the development of rumination behaviours.
    • Family dynamics: The family environment, including parental responses to initial rumination behaviour, can influence its persistence or cessation.

    The impact of rumination disorder

    Understanding the full impact of rumination syndrome is crucial in appreciating the breadth and severity of this condition. The condition extends far beyond the act of regurgitation, affecting various facets of an individual’s life, from physical health to psychological well-being and social interactions:

    Physical effects
    • Malnutrition: Continuous food loss through regurgitation can lead to severe nutritional deficiencies.
    • Gastrointestinal damage: Repeated exposure to stomach acid can harm the oesophagus and oral cavity.
    • Growth impairment: In children, persistent rumination can lead to growth retardation due to inadequate nutrition.
    Psychological consequences
    • Mental health struggles: Rumination disorder can lead to or exacerbate anxiety, depression and feelings of shame or guilt.
    • Cognitive impairments: In severe cases, prolonged nutritional deficiencies can affect cognitive functions.
    Social and relational impact
    • Isolation and stigma: Due to the misunderstanding and stigma surrounding the disorder, individuals may withdraw totally from social interactions.
    • Family stress and relationship strain: Family members may struggle to understand the condition, leading to miscommunication and strained interactions. This can exacerbate the isolation felt by individuals suffering from rumination syndrome.
    • Educational and occupational challenges: For children and adolescents, rumination disorder can interfere with education, leading to absenteeism or difficulty concentrating in school. Adults may find it challenging to maintain regular employment due to the need for frequent breaks and the potential embarrassment caused by rumination syndrome in a professional setting.

    The rumination disorder diagnosis process

    Rumination disorder diagnosis requires a comprehensive evaluation to distinguish it from other medical and psychological conditions. A correct rumination disorder diagnosis is crucial for developing an effective treatment plan and ensuring you receive the appropriate care and support. Diagnosis may involve:

    Psychological evaluations

    Mental health professionals can assess underlying psychological issues, such as stress, anxiety or trauma, which may be contributing to the disorder.

    Physical examinations

    Healthcare providers can perform physical exams to rule out gastrointestinal diseases or other medical conditions that could cause similar symptoms.

    Nutritional assessments

    Dietitians can evaluate the individual’s nutritional status to understand the disorder’s impact on their overall health.

    Healthcare providers must approach individuals with compassion and sensitivity throughout the rumination syndrome diagnostic process. Acknowledging the emotional and psychological aspects of the condition is essential in building trust and encouraging individuals to engage in rumination disorder treatment.

    What does rumination disorder treatment involve?

    Rumination disorder treatment at UKAT’s Banbury Lodge takes into account each individual’s unique needs and the multifaceted nature of the disorder. Our rehab treatment ensures that all aspects of your well-being are addressed and that no stone is left unturned in the quest for lasting rumination disorder recovery. Key components of our rumination disorder treatment programme include:

    Nutritional counselling
    Your journey starts with nutritional counselling. Our dietitians will work closely with you to develop eating habits that nourish and support your body. We know that rumination syndrome can lead to significant nutritional deficiencies, and our goal is to help you heal and rebuild a healthy relationship with food.
    Group therapy
    In our group therapy sessions, you will find a community of individuals who understand your struggles. Sharing thoughts, feelings and coping strategies in a supportive environment fosters a sense of belonging and mutual understanding. These sessions are a safe space to learn from others, gain different perspectives and feel validated in your rumination disorder recovery experiences.
    Individual therapy
    In individual therapy, you will delve into the personal issues that contribute to your rumination syndrome. Our mental health professionals use therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) to help you recognise and change negative thought patterns and behaviours. These one-on-one sessions are tailored to your needs, allowing you to explore your feelings and develop coping mechanisms that work for you.
    Family therapy
    Your family can play a crucial role in your rumination disorder recovery. Family therapy sessions aim to educate your family about the condition, create a supportive home environment and strengthen the bonds and communication within your family.
    Holistic therapies
    Rumination disorder treatment includes holistic therapies like art therapy, meditation and mindfulness. These practices are invaluable for managing stress, enhancing self-awareness and offering expressive outlets beyond traditional therapy. They provide tools to navigate your emotions and maintain a sense of calm and balance in your daily life.
    Physical therapy
    Physical therapists may also work with you on postural adjustments, as poor posture can exacerbate rumination disorder symptoms, especially during and after meals. Learning and maintaining correct postures can reduce the frequency of regurgitation episodes and improve digestion.

    Another significant aspect of physical therapy for rumination disorder involves teaching breathing and relaxation techniques. These can assist in controlling the muscles involved in the regurgitation process, providing a non-invasive way to interrupt and eventually stop the cycle of rumination.

    Recovery doesn’t end with the completion of your treatment program. Our aftercare services are designed to support you as you transition back into your everyday life. With weekly group therapy sessions, you will continue to receive the support and guidance you need to maintain your progress and prevent relapse. This ongoing support is a cornerstone of your long-term recovery and well-being.

    Begin rumination disorder recovery today

    Embarking on the path to recovery from rumination syndrome is a courageous step. At UKAT Banbury Lodge, we are committed to providing you with the comprehensive care and support your courage deserves. With our tailored treatment plans, compassionate staff and therapeutic options, we are here to help you regain control of your life and health. Contact us today to get started on the road to rumination disorder recovery.

    Call us now for help


    Is rumination disorder a mental illness?
    Rumination syndrome is indeed considered a mental illness, classified under the category of feeding and eating disorders. It involves a behavioural pattern where individuals repeatedly regurgitate their food, a process not caused by a medical condition like reflux but a psychological response. As a mental health condition, it usually requires psychological and behavioural interventions to address its underlying causes and symptoms.
    Is rumination disorder serious?
    Rumination syndrome can be a very serious condition, primarily due to its potential physical and psychological consequences. Physically, it can lead to malnutrition, weight loss and gastrointestinal problems. Psychologically, it can contribute to or exacerbate conditions like anxiety and depression. Its impact on social life and general well-being further underscores its severity. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are vital to mitigate these risks and improve the quality of life for those affected.