Sleeping Pills May Make Acid Reflux Worse

If you’re taking a prescription sedative to help you sleep, you may be increasing your risk for heartburn and acid reflux.

The problem, according to researchers at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, is that taking a sleeping pill may prevent you from waking up enough to swallow during an episode of nighttime reflux. Researchers found that patients who took Ambien were more likely to sleep through nighttime reflux. Sleeping through reflux episodes means that you’re not waking up for the brief time that it takes to swallow, which is the body’s natural defense against reflux. Swallowing helps push stomach acids out of the esophagus and down into the stomach. Swallowing also helps protect your esophagus from the damaging effects of stomach acids because the saliva neutralizes the acid.

Sleeping through nighttime reflux can be especially dangerous because it exposes the esophagus to acid for extended periods of time. This can cause damage to the cells lining the esophagus and lead to a precancerous condition known as Barrett’s esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus can increase the risk for esophageal cancer.

While the study was not able to show a direct link between using prescription sleeping pills and an increased risk of Barrett’s esophagus or cancer, it’s clear that people who suffer from nighttime reflux may not be the best candidates for sleep aids.

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