Gastroesophogeal Reflux Disease (GERD)


William C. Orr, PhD

What is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)?

NATIONAL SLEEP FOUNDATION — GERD is most commonly referred to as heartburn, or even acid reflux disease. It can be described as the back flow of stomach contents, including acid, into the esophagus (swallowing tube), resulting in a burning sensation.

How common is GERD?

GERD is extremely common. In fact, surveys indicate that about 44% of Americans experience heartburn once a month, and five percent report having heartburn several days a week. Even more people, about 65%, indicate that they have heartburn both day and night and report that their heartburn is worse at night and disrupts their sleep.

How does GERD affect sleep?

A large majority of heartburn sufferers experience it at night. Our research indicates that nighttime GERD is asignificant contributor to sleep problems. We’ve discovered that acid contact with the esophagus at night can prevent or delay the onset of sleep. Moreover, once asleep, the sleep is fragmented.

What is the nighttime GERD cancer connection?

Researchers have found that people who report nighttime heartburn at least once a week are at high risk of developing esophageal cancer. My studies have shown that nighttime acid reflux is a much more serious form of the disease with more dire consequences. But, it’s important to know that esophageal cancer is rare.

How is GERD treated?

GERD can be treated with lifestyle changes such as avoiding certain foods, such as tomato products, grapefruit, and high fat foods in general. Also, try to maintain a regular meal schedule, eat your meals at the same time each day. To avoid nighttime GERD, people can also sleep with the head of the bed slightly elevated.

There are also a variety of over-the-counter medications that people can try. There are antacids which offer relief by neutralizing acid and H2 Blockers which reduce acid.

When should someone see his or her doctor?

When sleep is disrupted once a week or more due to heartburn, they should consult their physician.


William C. Orr, PhD, is President and Chief Executive Officer of Lynn Health Science Institute in Oklahoma City, OK.