Definition and Epidemiology
Large surveys of patients with GERD suggest that about 80% of patients with daytime GERD also have nighttime symptoms.
By the most commonly-used definition, patients have nocturnal gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) when heartburn or other symptoms adversely affect sleep quality.(1)This can refer to difficulty getting to sleep, mid-sleep awakenings, or a sense of next-day fatigue. Large surveys of patients with GERD suggest that about 80% of patients with daytime GERD also have nighttime symptoms.(2-3)In one survey of patients with GERD, 47% reported that symptoms sometimes or frequently woke them in the middle of the night.(4)In another, 63% reported that GERD symptoms adversely affected the quality of their sleep, and 40% reported that nocturnal heartburn affected their ability to function the next day.(5)The likelihood of nocturnal symptoms increased with the frequency of daytime symptoms (Fig. 1). Although most surveys have focused on heartburn as the source of sleep disturbances, other GERD symptoms, such as regurgitation, may make important contributions. In particular, there is a strong association between GERD and sleep apnea.(6-7)It has been hypothesized that this association is the result of a vicious cycle when gastric contents reach the upper airways to cause inflammatory damage.(8-9)According to this theory, sleep apnea which is induced or exacerbated by this damage, reduces intrathoracic pressure to increase reflux events, thereby increasing the risk for further reflux, further inflammation, and persistent apnea risk . Other extraesophageal symptoms of GERD, such as chronic cough, may also be involved in clinically significant disturbances of sleep or sleep quality.(10)
Impact of Nocturnal GERD on Quality of Life
There is substantial evidence that GERD episodes at night are more serious than GERD events during the day. Nocturnal GERD is associated with a greater risk of esophagitis and severe forms of esophagitis, a greater risk of Barrett’s esophagus.
The adverse impact of nocturnal GERD on quality of life has been demonstrated repeatedly,(11-12)but there is also substantial evidence that GERD episodes at night are more serious than GERD events during the day. Nocturnal GERD is associated with a greater risk of esophagitis and severe forms of esophagitis,(13)including a greater risk of Barrett’s esophagus.(14)The likely explanation is that the events occurring in the supine position produce slower clearance of the reflux so that longer acid contact increases the risk of damage.(15-16)The reduction in gravitational forces inherent in the supine position may also increase the likelihood that reflux will extend higher into the esophagus, reaching the airways to exacerbate sleep apnea and other extraesophageal manifestations.(17) (Fig. 2) Nighttime symptoms have also been associated with diminishing next-day work productivity.(18)In a study which compared 476 individuals with GERD who had nocturnal symptoms to 526 individuals with GERD but no nocturnal symptoms and 513 controls, the reduction in work productivity and GERD-related work loss were highly significant (P<0.0001) relative to either the GERD group without nocturnal symptoms or controls.(19)(Fig. 3)
Although the vast majority of patients with daytime GERD also have clinically significant nocturnal symptoms, risk factors for nocturnal symptoms may differ. In relatively large surveys, nocturnal GERD risk factors have included more daily symptoms of heartburn, severe daytime symptoms, predominant symptom of regurgitation, long duration of GERD symptoms, and higher body mass (BMI).(20-21)Sleep apnea, as previously mentioned, is also associated with nocturnal GERD, and there is a correlation between greater severity of apnea and greater likelihood of GERD.(6)While the correlation between severe or frequent symptoms of daytime heartburn symptoms may relate to a weaker barrier to reflux episodes, such as hiatal hernia,(21)the increase in BMI is likely to not only increase the risk of GERD but the proximal extent of the rise in gastric contents.(22) The basic mechanism of GERD, which includes a greater or more prolonged acid exposure in the lower esophagus after otherwise normal transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxations (TLESR),(23)is likely to be similar in daytime and nighttime GERD, but the precipitating factors may vary. For example, late night meals have been shown to be a risk factor for nocturnal GERD, (24)and agents that increase muscle relaxation, such as benzodiazepines, may also have a more deleterious effect at night than in the day when patients are no longer upright.(21) Impaired barrier function due to a hiatal hernia or other cause may be important to nocturnal GERD in some individuals, but there is some evidence TLESRs are similar in patients with or without GERD and that the difference in risk is mediated by the greater acid content of the reflux, the slower clearance of the acid, or both.(23, 25)This reinforces the importance of anti-secretory therapy to lower gastric acid levels, a step that may be poorly suited to once-daily proton pump inhibitor (PPI) therapy taken in the morning. PPIs irreversibly bind to meal-stimulated proton-pumps, which is the final step for gastric acid secretion, but have a relatively short half-life in the serum.(26)Consequently when new proton pumps are formed with meals later in the day, gastric acid suppression diminishes. This may explain why nocturnal GERD is often more difficult to control and is more likely to produce severe esophagitis.(13)
Effective acid control is associated with a reduction in nocturnal GERD, including sleep disturbances,(27)but once-daily PPIs are unable to control nocturnal GERD consistently.(28)This has led to a variety of strategies to improve outcome, including twice-daily PPI therapy,(29)once daily PPI therapy combined with an H2-receptor antagonist at night,(30)and sustained-release or dual-release PPIs.(31-32)Although twice-daily PPIs are effective and are likely to be superior to the combination of a PPI and an H2-receptor antagonist, which would provide weaker acid control at night, this approach is burdened by a more demanding regimen that might diminish compliance. (Fig. 4)
The potential advantages of a sustained- or dual-release PPI for the treatment of nocturnal GERD are substantial based on the pathophysiology of GERD and the pharmacokinetics of antisecretory agents.
The potential advantages of a sustained- or dual-release PPI for the treatment of nocturnal GERD are substantial based on the pathophysiology of GERD and the pharmacokinetics of antisecretory agents. In a study that compared a sustained-release once-daily dose of 50 mg rabeprazole to a conventional dose of 40 mg once daily esomeprazole, the esophagitis healing rates were slightly greater at 8 weeks for Los Angeles (LA) grade C esophagitis with rabeprazole as compared with esomeprazole (80% vs. 75%), but the symptom relief was comparable (48.3% vs. 48.2%).(33)However, this study did not look at nocturnal symptoms specifically. In contrast, a study of dexlansoprazole modified release (MR), which employs a dual-release technology to separate peak plasma levels, that was conducted specifically in individuals with nocturnal GERD did demonstrate a highly significant reduction in sleep-related symptoms as well as an improvement in work productivity.(32)In this 305-patient trial, relief of sleep disturbances was 69.7% and 47.9% (P<0.001) in placebo in the two study groups, favouring dexlansoprazole. Other strategies can be helpful alone or in combination with acid control for reducing nocturnal GERD and its adverse effects on sleep. Avoiding late evening meals is one reasonable approach, while elevating the head of the bed has a documented benefit on symptom improvement.(1)These mechanical approaches are important, but acid control has been fundamental to the treatment of GERD in both its daytime and nighttime manifestations. Surgical control of fundoplication has been specifically associated with improvement in sleep disturbances due to GERD,(34)but other methods of acid control if effective in the evening hours would be expected to provide meaningful clinical benefit. (Fig. 5)
Nocturnal GERD is an extremely common disorder that deserves specific attention because of its important role in diminishing quality of life as well as the threat it poses to development of esophagitis and its complications, including Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal adenocarcinoma. It cannot be assumed that treatments effective for control of daytime GERD symptoms will be effective in the evening for several reasons, particularly the physiology of meal-stimulated acid pump development. Patients treated for GERD should be asked specifically about nighttime symptom control. Adjustments in treatment, including use of longer-acting agents, may be appropriate if there is a presence of nocturnal GERD. Controlling nocturnal GERD presents a major opportunity to improve patient wellbeing.
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Chapter 2: Nighttime GERD – Implications for Clinical Practice
Of patients who report at least once-weekly episodes of heartburn, most also report nighttime symptoms. Although both the daytime and nighttime subtypes of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are produced when acidic gastric contents reflux into the lower esophagus, nighttime reflux has the potential to be a more severe form. Probably due to the loss of gravity that increases acid dwell time in the esophagus in the supine position, nocturnal reflux is associated with a higher risk of esophagitis and its long-term complications. Effective treatment of daytime reflux is not necessarily effective for nighttime episodes for a variety of reasons, including diminishing pharmacologic effect from proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) that are typically taken once daily in the morning. In many patient groups, such as those with sleep apnea, nocturnal GERD can contribute substantially to complications such as daytime fatigue. Due to its distinct features and risks, nocturnal GERD should be addressed specifically with the goal of complete symptom control.Show review