Are GERD and Sleep Apnea Related?
GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), often referred to as acid reflux, affects about 60 million Americans. Many people with this disorder also have a condition called sleep apnea. In fact, up to 80% of those diagnosed with GERD have reported a worsening of symptoms during the nighttime hours. According to the National Sleep Foundation, GERD is one of the leading causes of sleep disturbance. Studies show that up to 75% of GERD sufferers have reported waking up frequently due to their symptoms. Because of these statistics, researchers are aware that there is a relationship between GERD and sleep apnea. The question is, what causes the two disorders to co-occur? Does sleep apnea cause GERD? Does GERD cause sleep apnea? These two questions have left experts and researchers perplexed.
What Researchers and Experts Say About the Relationship Between GERD and Sleep Apnea
There seem to be differing opinions on the exact cause of the relationship between GERD and sleep apnea. Some experts believe that sleep apnea causes GERD, while others believe GERD causes sleep apnea. Unfortunately, at the present time, there is not enough research to provide concrete evidence to support either opinion.
Some experts believe that the pressure changes in the airway associated with obstructive sleep apnea can cause acid to be refluxed into the esophagus. Other experts believe that the reflux of acids may cause the vocal chords to spasm, which can then lead to temporary lapse in breathing. Researchers have also suggested that the relationship may be more simple than that. Since people with sleep apnea tend to breath harder while they are sleeping, researchers believe that this heavy breathing may be inducing the acid to reflux into the esophagus.
Until the exact cause of this co-occurrence is found, little can be done in the way of treatment. In the meantime, individuals should focus on treating the disorders separately, as well as taking steps to prevent the incidence of both disorders.
How to Minimize the Co-occurrence of GERD and Sleep Apnea
Many people look at GERD and sleep apnea as two conditions that are simply bothersome. The fact is, both of these disorders can lead to serious health conditions, or even death.
GERD causes the stomach acids to reflux into the esophagus. Over time, these acids can cause significant damage the esophagus, or even lead to esophageal cancer. When sleeping, the esophagus is exposed to these acids for longer periods of time, because the individual is lying down. Without the help of gravity to keep the acid away from the esophagus, it is at a greater risk of becoming damaged. This is why individuals should take steps to prevent symptoms of GERD from occurring while they are sleeping.
Raising the head of the bed is one way to protect the esophagus from the acid caused by GERD. This will help force the acid to travel back into the stomach, rather than up into the esophagus. To reduce the amount of acid in the stomach, individuals should avoid carbonated drinks, especially before they go to bed. Individuals should also avoid eating anything, especially spicy foods, within two hours of going to bed.
Sleep apnea causes a person to stop breathing many times while they are sleeping. This can be extremely dangerous, especially if the individual also has acid in their throat. Because sleep apnea deprives the body of much need oxygen, it can lead to high blood pressure or other cardiovascular conditions.
One of the most common treatments for sleep apnea is a CPAP mask. This mask works by blowing air into the mouth to keep the airway open. Other methods that have proven to be effective in reducing the number of apnea episodes are weight loss, not sleeping on the back, and avoiding the consumption of alcohol.
Medscape Today: Preliminary Results Link GERD to Sleep Apnea
National Sleep Foundation: GERD and Sleep