Coughing, Snoring Among GERD Symptoms

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Updated: 10/13 10:39 pm

Oct. 16, 2007 (Philadelphia) -- Nearly three-fourths of people with chronic acid reflux -- technically known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD -- suffer nighttime symptoms not typically associated with the disease such as coughing, snoring, and chest pain, researchers report.

The study of 701 people with GERD also showed that those who suffered uncommon symptoms two or more nights a week were much more likely to have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep than those who suffered the typical symptoms of heartburn and acid regurgitation.

Ronnie Fass, MD, a gastroenterologist at Southern Arizona VA Health Care System in Tucson, says it's a vicious cycle. "GERD leads to poor sleep. But poor sleep also affects GERD as it has been shown to lead people to eat more," he tells WebMD.

Fass presented the study here at the annual meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology.

Sleep Woes More Common

The study involved people with GERD who filled out an Internet survey asking about their symptoms and sleep patterns.

Of those surveyed, 74% reported at least one unusual nighttime symptom:

  • 44% said they snored
  • 42% had to keep clearing their throat
  • 41% had sinusitis, a swelling of the tissue lining the sinuses that can cause cold-like symptoms
  • 34% cited coughing
  • 23% cited chest pain not related to heart disease
  • 22% reported sore throats
  • 21% cited wheezing

Further analysis showed that for every symptom other than snoring, the 20% of participants who had atypical symptoms twice a week or more had higher rates of sleep woes than those who had no or less frequent unusual symptoms.

The difference was quite striking at times, Fass tells WebMD. For example, 62% of those with frequent nighttime chest pain had trouble falling or staying asleep vs. 36% of those with less frequent or no nighttime chest pain.

Also, 63% of those who frequently reported nighttime choking had sleep disturbances vs. 40% of those with who reported choking less frequently or not at all.

Donald Castell, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, tells WebMD that he believes late dinners may explain many of the atypical nighttime symptoms.

"If you have a late meal, your acid levels will be higher when you go to sleep. That itself could be a source of the symptoms," Castell says.

The experts' advice to GERD sufferers: Eat smaller meals, earlier -- at least two to three hours before turning in.

GERD Frequent Source of Chest Pain

In a second study presented at the meeting, researchers found that GERD was responsible for more than half of emergency room cases of chest pain that was not related to the heart.

The study of 31 people also showed that more women than men were being rushed to the emergency room with noncardiac chest pains.

Researcher Julia J. Liu, MD, of the department of gastroenterology at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston, cautions that people should never assume their chest pain is caused by GERD.

Anyone who experiences persistent chest pain should seek emergency medical care, she tells WebMD.

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