It is possible for an individual to have both gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and sleep apnea. Some risk factors are the same for both conditions.

GERD causes symptoms like indigestion and acid reflux. Sleep apnea involves breathing difficulties during sleep.

Risk factors for having both conditions may include diabetes, obesity, and smoking (if applicable). Having one condition may also raise the chance of developing the other.

This article explores the connection between GERD and sleep apnea. Keep reading to learn about the possible link between these conditions.

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Multiple studies have found a link between GERD and sleep apnea. In a 2022 study, around 12% of participants with GERD also had obstructive sleep apnea.

In GERD, stomach acid travels back up the esophagus, a tube connecting the throat and stomach. In some instances, irritation to the esophagus may have a negative effect on nighttime breathing. According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, 4 in 5 people with GERD experience symptoms at night.

Researchers have also found that sleep apnea may have links with GERD. A 2023 study found that individuals with sleep apnea may have a higher risk of developing GERD.

This may occur because of pressure changes caused by sleep apnea. Changes in pressure within the esophagus may increase the risk of acid reflux.

The research behind the link between GERD and sleep apnea remains limited. Some people may develop one of these conditions as a result of the other, or they may have certain risk factors that increase the chance of developing both conditions. More research is necessary to understand the possible relationship between them.

A 2022 study looking at around 22.6 million people with GERD found that roughly 12% of people also had obstructive sleep apnea.

In a 2021 study, close to 13% of people with obstructive sleep apnea also had GERD.

It is difficult to estimate the number of people with both GERD and sleep apnea. However, these studies suggest that around 12% of people with one condition also have the other.

Various risk factors can raise the chance of developing GERD and sleep apnea.

Certain individuals may be at risk of developing both GERD and sleep apnea. Risk factors that increase the chance of both of these conditions may include:

  • obesity
  • smoking, if a person smokes
  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • heart failure

Developing either GERD or sleep apnea may also increase the chance of developing the other condition. A person can contact their doctor for advice if they have concerns about the risk factors for GERD and sleep apnea.

Learn more about the risk factors for GERD.

Medical treatments for GERD and sleep apnea are different.

For GERD, some common medication options include:

  • H2 blockers
  • proton pump inhibitors
  • antacids

Learn more about GERD treatments.

For sleep apnea, treatment may involve medical devices like:

  • continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine
  • tongue-retaining devices
  • mandibular repositioning mouthpieces

Learn about home remedies for obstructive sleep apnea.

Lifestyle changes may help a person manage both conditions, and they include:

  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • getting enough regular physical activity or exercise
  • reducing alcohol consumption, if a person drinks
  • avoiding or quitting smoking, if a person smokes

Certain sleeping positions may also help relieve nighttime symptoms. For example, sleeping on the side can promote open airways during sleep. This may help with sleep apnea symptoms. Elevating the head and upper back during sleep can also help ease GERD symptoms.

Here are some frequently asked questions.

Why is GERD worse at night?

In GERD, acid travels back up from the stomach through the esophagus. Symptoms may worsen when lying down, as this makes it easier for acid to travel upward. Elevating the head during sleep may help.

Can GERD cause shortness of breath while sleeping?

If a person has GERD, acid traveling up from the stomach may irritate the esophagus and affect breathing. Since GERD symptoms often happen at night, this may cause shortness of breath while sleeping.

Can acid reflux block your airway?

Acid reflux can cause damage to the esophagus, which may make it feel like a person’s airways are blocked. People with GERD may experience a range of symptoms that affect breathing. They are usually minor, but breathing problems could be more severe for individuals with asthma or other conditions that affect the airways.

GERD causes symptoms like acid reflux and indigestion. Sleep apnea involves disrupted breathing during sleep.

Some individuals develop both GERD and sleep apnea. This may occur because they have risk factors that increase their chance of both conditions. Having one condition may also increase the risk of the other. More research into the link between the two conditions is necessary.

A doctor can recommend lifestyle changes that can help a person manage both GERD and sleep apnea.