Can GERD cause sleep apnea?

Gerd can have several discomforting symptoms. Since it does not take time or place, it is observed that nighttime heartburn and other symptoms are even more disturbing than those experienced during the daytime. Undiagnosed sleep apnea is often confused as a GERD symptom and neglected. It is crucial to understand the significant difference between them and pursue treatment accordingly.

Before getting to the question of whether GERD can cause sleep apnea or worsen it, it is essential to understand what GERD/ acid reflux is and how you can diagnose it. 

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease 

Gastro-esophageal reflux disease is a chronic condition due to the continuous occurrence of heartburn. Heartburn could be recurring due to the reflux of toxic gastric acids in your esophagus. This disturbance in your digestive system could happen because of several reasons. Still, in most cases, it occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter LES (a muscle connecting our food pipe and stomach) disrupts. Instead of just opening and closing to control the flow of food and liquids inside our stomach, it will function poorly and start relaxing at the wrong times, which will cause acids to enter the esophagus.

Other risk factors could be obesity or side effects of a bariatric procedure which will add pressure inside the stomach, and acids will be forced to flow into our esophagus due to the lack of space.

Symptoms of GERD

Heartburn is one of the most common acid reflux symptoms, but apart from that, there are several other indicators too. The constant sensation of a lump in your throat or burning chest pain can also be early signs of GERD.

Experiencing upper abdominal pain and difficulty swallowing liquid or food substances are common GERD symptoms.

Gerd patients have also reported developing or worsening their asthma after getting GERD. This can also lead to chronic cough and shortness of breath. You may also feel a sour and acidic taste in your mouth.

These symptoms can often worsen during nighttime when you’re lying down or sleeping, causing several interruptions in your sleep pattern and causing discomfort.

See also: Can Acid Reflux Cause Sinus And Ear Problems?

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that almost 30 million United States citizens suffer from. Surprisingly, only 6 million of these sleep apnea patients come to diagnose the disease. To address the most common question, stress can not cause sleep apnea but can worsen the symptoms.

There are three types in total, but the most common one is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Obesity is the primary reason for this disorder because excess weight worsens the disturbed breathing pattern.

An increase in body mass index will adjoin the upper respiratory tract, and the airway will narrow. The activity in this region will decrease, and the vital muscles supporting soft tissues will relax. When the muscles in the back of your throat relax, your breathing will be cut off. It is considered a severe problem because sleep apnea sufferers’ breathing stops and restarts several times at night, causing terrible symptoms.

Symptoms Of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea abate, and mild symptoms may include thunderous snoring at night or waking up with a dry mouth. The lack of sleep might also result in a sharp morning headache.

As the condition worsens, you will most probably start experiencing hypersomnia which is the feeling of excessive daytime sleepiness, and poor sleep will make it difficult to concentrate or focus on important matters while awake.

As a defensive strategy, your brain will immediately force you to wake up as soon as you experience shortness of breath. You might experience several episodes of waking up in the middle of the night, gasping for air, and feeling choked. This can be highly disorienting and even scary sometimes.

Read also: Is Acid Reflux Worse When Sitting? Find Out The Surprising Facts

Can GERD Cause Sleep Apnea? 

To sum it up in a single line. No, there is no scientific evidence or medical study that might prove that sleep apnea is caused by GERD/ acid reflux. However, that doesn’t mean there is no causal link between them.

The main reason GERD and sleep apnea are associated is the similarity of sleep apnea and nighttime GERD symptoms. 

The correlation between GERD and sleep apnea is a negative pressure meaning they can’t cause the other, but they exacerbate each other by worsening the symptoms.

So, if someone has pre-existing and untreated sleep apnea and he develops GERD, their symptoms will be combined and much more severe. Sleep apnea also causes a domino effect and causes problems with the digestive system, which triggers acid reflux.

Studies have shown that about 60% of sleep apnea patients are also GERD sufferers, and treating sleep apnea can also relieve nighttime GERD symptoms.

Similar Symptoms Of GERD And Sleep Apnea

  1. Experiencing insomnia (trouble sleeping)
  2. Waking up gasping for air
  3. Chest, back, and neck pain
  4. Headaches

Treatment Options 

Both are chronic illnesses and can’t be expected to go away without proper medical attention. Studies have shown that untreated acid reflux can lead to Barrett’s esophagus and increase esophageal cancer risk.

As for sleep apnea, if left neglected, it can cause serious health problems. Sleep problems increase stress levels and worsen blood pressure. It also increases the risk of heart disease and heart attack.

As for treatment, it is essential to consult a doctor immediately that can guide you with suitable treatment after judging the intensity of your situation.

GERD and sleep apnea have several successful treatments, but the good news is that they can be treated collectively.

Separate Treatments

  • Gerd treatment 
  1. Proton pump inhibitors (PPI) can be taken, a drug that quickens the process of getting the stomach contents out. Proton pump inhibitors are effective because they fix the problem from roots and decrease the production of acids inside our bodies. Other h2 blockers can be taken as well.
  2. As for dietary changes, It is recommended to avoid trigger food substances such as fatty foods, spicy foods, and acidic and citrus fruit. Smoking and consumption of alcohol should also abstain. These changes result in significant improvements in most patients. 
  3. Surgery is the only permanent solution. If precautions and medicines do not work even after a long time, medical procedures such as gastric bypass or Nissen fundoplication can also be performed to treat chronic acid reflux.
  • Sleep apnea treatment 
  1. Sleep apnea can be tried to solve naturally through some precautions. Doctors and health specialists usually recommend yoga to OSA patients as it will improve your blood pressure, strengthen your heart and improve breathing patterns. Changing sleep positions may also work for people who are only experiencing mild symptoms of sleep apnea. 
  2. Adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV) is a comparatively new and advanced method to help OSA patients. It consists of a mask and tube that ensures pressurized air over the night. People with central sleep apnea typically use it. The system is so advanced that it monitors all the abnormalities and adjusts according to them, resulting in the least amount of sleep disturbances. 
  3. Mouthpieces are modified mouthguards that are custom-made for each patient. This repositions your lower jaw in a way that provides a larger airway in case your throat muscle contracts at night and restricts airflow. This is a method that successfully alleviates breathing troubles. 

Simultaneous Treatment

  • CPAP Treatment

Sleep apnea and GERD are cyclical, so they need to be treated collectively. CPAP is a machine that provides consistent air pressure through a mask or nosepiece, and it is the most common method used by obstructive sleep apnea patients. 

The CPAP machine provides air at just enough high pressure to prevent the collapse of your airway. That way, you will have a good night’s sleep without waking up. 

It can help prevent GERD symptoms by increasing the pressure in the chest and transferring it to the esophagus. This will successfully avert the stomach acids from refluxing and coming back up. 

  • Weight loss

Obesity is considered the leading risk factor for both GERD and sleep apnea. So reducing weight can simultaneously solve both problems. As we discussed above, excess weight is regarded as the primary reason for sleep apnea, and as for GERD, obesity increases abdominal pressure, and acids are refluxed into the esophagus.

With that in sight, a few lifestyle changes need to be made so that the patient can prevent the dreadful symptoms of both these diseases. Daily calories need to be decreased, and it is essential to acquire a healthy diet stocked with proteins.

With some routine exercises, the patient can successfully reduce weight. Making these changes will also prevent overeating, reducing the pressure on the digestive system. 

Moreover, weight loss will also take excess fat off your neck and abdomen, making it easy for the brain to control your breathing. There is a big chance that weight loss will eventually cause your breathing pattern to return to normal. 

See also: How Can I Fix My Acid Reflux After Gastric Sleeve Surgery

Can GERD Cause Sleep Apnea Summary

If you’re experiencing symptoms of acid reflux or sleep apnea, you must seek proper medical attention instantly. No matter how many precautions or restrictions you follow, these chronic illnesses may worsen over time and turn into life-treating diseases.

So, Rather than experiencing its agonizing symptoms and living in constant pain, it is much better to treat them once and for all. 

And as you discovered, having a healthy weight is always good for preventing GERD.