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Nighttime Heartburn May Be Dangerous

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Updated February 14, 2006

Why is heartburn more dangerous at night? There are several reasons this may be the case, and why heartburn sufferers should take precautions.

When symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) occur at night, they can be more damaging than those same symptoms during the day. If you are a GERD sufferer, you know how your symptoms can cause problems, such as the pain and the irritation. When you sleep at night, your body is less prepared to deal with these symptoms, and less able to prevent possible lasting damage. While we know from experience that acid reflux at night can disrupt our sleep, we also need to understand the other potentially harmful factors that can make nighttime heartburn more likely to cause damage.

These factors include:

  • Sleeping in a supine position.
    Laying flat in bed allows stomach acid to flow more easily into the esophagus, and stay there more longer periods of time then when a person is in an upright position. Even elevating the head and shoulders 6 to 8 inches will help keep stomach acid where it belongs, in the stomach.

  • We can't drink or swallow every time an acid reflux episode occurs when sleeping.
    When GERD sufferers are awake and there's an episode of acid reflux, they often will rinse their mouth or swallow some liquid. Even swallowing saliva helps. When asleep, once the refluxed acid is in the esophagus or throat, the sufferer isn't always aware of it, and thus doesn't take steps to rinse the acid away.

  • There's an increased risk of choking on refluxed stomach contents.
    If refluxed acid is in the throat and mouth, a GERD sufferer can inhale this into their lungs. Once in the lungs, it can cause a GERD sufferer to cough and choke on this aspirated material. The acid can also cause the same damage to the lungs as it can cause when refluxed into the esophagus.

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Anyone who is troubled with nighttime GERD symptoms should talk to their doctor. There are medications that can help control the acid reflux. The doctor can also discuss preventive measures a GERD sufferers can use to help prevent damage that can occur with nighttime reflux.

For suggestions on easing nighttime heartburn, read this nighttime heartburn prevention article.

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Updated: 02/14/2006

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