GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) affects approximately seven million people in the United States alone and another 20% of the population reports at least weekly bouts of indigestion. More than just a case of frequent heartburn, GERD causes irregular relaxation of the muscles in the esophagus and allows digestive acids to reflux or run back up the esophagus causing discomfort, pain, and long-term health problems.
Beyond the daytime discomfort is a constant battle for many people with GERD: getting a good night’s sleep. Trying to lie down only opens the path for digestive contents to run up the esophagus.
Nighttime GERD is especially problematic because stomach acids have more time to contact the tissues of the esophagus. The longer these acids reflux, the greater the chance of irritation or swelling that may narrow the esophagus or cause precancerous changes to the cells known as Barrett’s esophagus. Using gravity to keep stomach contents in their place is one way to reduce how much acid makes its way where it doesn’t belong.
Why propping isn’t enough
Most of the time propping on a pile of pillows doesn’t help because it only elevates your head—you need to elevate everything from the waist up for the best results. If you’re tired of sleeping in the recliner, wedge pillows for GERD may be an option. Here are some you might try:
• The Medcline Reflux Relief System: Far more than just a wedge pillow or a prop, the Medcline system puts your body at just the right angle to reduce the most common symptoms like coughing, nausea, burning and regurgitation naturally.
• Foam wedge pillows: These simple foam wedges are designed to prop your upper body up between 30 and 40 degrees—enough for some people to reduce their symptoms (but not all). Some styles of foam pillows can be folded and secured for traveling and usually have a washable cover.
• Memory foam pillows: Softer than wedges, memory foam supports for GERD often come in a 24×24 inch size and offer a 7.5 inch incline and the orthopedic support of foam.
Wedge pillows should be used in combination with dietary and lifestyle changes. To get the best night’s sleep make sure to avoid eating within 3 hours of bed, eating smaller, lighter meals and avoiding trigger foods that make your symptoms worse. Your doctor may also recommend that you exercise and lose weight to help control symptoms—obesity is a major risk factor for GERD. If you have questions about adopting new dietary or exercise habits, talk with your healthcare team.
Not every treatment for GERD will work for every person, so be patient as you find the right combination of medications, foods, and support devices that give you the best results and don’t give up on your journey to a better night’s sleep.