Is Your Fatigue Caused by Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)?
8 minute read
Fatigue goes beyond one day of recovering from an all-nighter or a big night out with friends. Fatigue is a chronic feeling of being tired or lacking the energy you need on a daily basis. It is a long-term condition and one of the largest contributors to fatigue is poor sleep.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that a third of US adults report not getting enough sleep. There are a wide variety of medical problems that are associated with lack of sleep and there are many health concerns that can interfere with your sleep.
One condition that can disrupt your sleep is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, more frequently referred to as GERD. While most people don’t associate digestive health with sleep, you may be surprised to find out just how connected the two can be.
What Is GERD?
GERD is a digestive disorder in which the lower esophageal sphincter is ineffective and allows food and acid from the stomach back up into the esophagus.
When you’re lying down, like when you go to bed, your esophagus is horizontal, making it easier for stomach contents to work up through the esophagus. When you’re vertical, gravity helps works to your advantage a little bit.
Many GERD sufferers find that they have more symptoms or the severity is worse when they lie down to sleep, which is how it disrupts your sleep and, over time, causes fatigue.
Causes of GERD
It’s believed that most GERD comes from dietary and/or lifestyle choices. The following could cause or exacerbate GERD in some people.
Food and beverages: Some foods and drinks may cause GERD. These include fried or fatty foods, coffee, alcohol, spicy foods, chocolate, and peppermint.
Cigarette smoking: Smoking can cause or exacerbate GERD, according to research. The nicotine in tobacco relaxes the sphincter muscle in the lower esophagus, which then allows stomach contents to flow upward. And don’t forget that e-cigs have nicotine as well, so vaping can be as bad as smoking.
Pregnancy: The good news is that, for most, GERD or the precursor to GERD, acid reflux, clears up after pregnancy. But it’s believed that the combination of extra hormones combined with pressure from the growing baby causes the heartburn symptom of GERD in pregnant women.
Extra weight: Being overweight can also bring on GERD. There’s no specific reason why weight and GERD are connected, but it’s believed that extra pounds can put additional pressure on your abdomen.
Medications: Some medications like aspirin, ibuprofen, muscle relaxers, asthma treatments, and specific blood pressure medications have been connected to GERD, heartburn, and acid reflux because they stress the lining of the stomach.
Symptoms of GERD
The following symptoms are associated with GERD. But it should be noted that some of these symptoms, like chest pain, can be connected to other, more serious, illnesses and should be evaluated by a doctor.
Also, GERD reacts differently for each person, so while one person may have chronic heartburn, another person with GERD may never experience that at all.
Heartburn and chest pain: This is the most common indication that GERD may be a concern. When the acid moves from your stomach into your esophagus, it can feel like a burning, or it can be pressure and pain in the chest area.
Obviously, those feelings are also associated with a heart attack, and it’s best to visit your doctor to get an official diagnosis.
Difficulty swallowing or a lump in your throat: The swelling caused by acid coming back up your esophagus can make it feel like you have a lump in your throat or can make it difficult to swallow normally.
Throwing up: A small amount of regurgitation is a common symptom for many with GERD. Some people may experience even more dramatic vomiting episodes.
Chronic cough: A cough or constant need to clear your throat can be connected to GERD. This symptom is often reported at night or when people lie down and the acid more easily finds its way up the esophagus.
Hoarseness: As the acid travels upward, it can affect the larynx and cause you to have a hoarse voice. This damage can be long-lasting or permanent without medical intervention.
Disrupted sleep: If you’re having trouble sleeping, night after night, due to pain in your chest, coughing, difficulty breathing and other symptoms, it’s a good idea to seek medical help before you develop chronic fatigue.
If you’re concerned about getting GERD, the good news is it’s often caused by lifestyle choices. This means that if you adopt some healthy habits and let go of some bad ones, you may be able to prevent GERD.
Lose weight: Even just a few pounds can mean the difference between having GERD and not.
Eat wisely: If you’re looking to prevent GERD you don’t need to cut out all the foods you love, but you should at least moderate those that cause you heartburn. If you know you’re going to have those foods, taking an antacid before heating them may help.
Elevate your bed: Nighttime is especially hard for people with GERD as the horizontal position makes it easier for acid to travel up your esophagus. By raising the head of your bed up six to eight inches you may combat the effects of gravity.
Review medications: Have a chat with your doctor or pharmacist to pinpoint what medications you regularly take that can cause GERD or heartburn, then see if there are safer alternatives.
Quit tobacco: Nicotine has been shown to relax the lower esophageal sphincter muscle, which can then cause acid reflux. Giving up this habit may help prevent GERD and other chronic health conditions.
Avoid alcohol: Alcohol also causes relaxing in the lower esophageal sphincter, as with tobacco, quitting or limiting your alcohol consumption can help.
If you already have GERD, using the above GERD prevention tips can help you relieve or eliminate the symptoms.
Over-the-counter medications: You may find all the relief you need from antacids and acid reducers.
Prescription medication: Your doctor may feel that your GERD symptoms are too severe for over-the-counter medications and lifestyle changes. The good news is there are several prescriptions on the market that may help you find relief.
Surgery: When your GERD situation becomes too severe you may want to pursue fundoplication. This is a procedure where your esophagus is tightened surgically.
Alternative methods: You may want to go a different route and try some alternative treatments to GERD. Consider yoga, digestive enzyme supplements, chewing gum, and learning to relax.
The Bottom Line
Because GERD and fatigue can be closely related, it’s key that you do what you can to prevent and treat GERD to stave off fatigue. Getting a good night’s sleep can be as easy as making a few healthy lifestyle choices.
For others, a visit to your physician can help put you on the right path.