Gastroesophageal reflux disease, known as GERD, can cause fatigue in people who have difficulty sleeping due to symptoms. For example, a person may repeatedly wake in the night to cough or because of pain associated with heartburn.
In this article, we explore the link between fatigue and GERD in depth. We also describe treatment options and when to see a doctor.
Fatigue is different from feeling tired. A tired person who has not slept well may struggle the next day and want to do less than they normally would.
In contrast, fatigue can have a significant impact on day-to-day life.
A person experiencing fatigue will feel that they do not have the energy to complete everyday tasks, and this feeling will continue over an extended period.
While a person can usually identify why they feel tired, fatigue is often a symptom of an underlying health condition that needs to be investigated. A doctor will need to make a diagnosis before the person can be treated.
GERD is one condition that can interfere with sleep patterns and cause fatigue. It occurs when stomach acid flows upward into the food pipe, which is called the esophagus, rather than staying in the stomach and aiding digestion.
Symptoms of GERD include:
If a person has the symptoms above and believes that they are experiencing fatigue, they may have GERD and should make an appointment with a doctor.
There are different reasons why a person with GERD may experience fatigue.
When a person is walking or standing upright, gravity helps to keep stomach contents, including acid, where they belong.
However, when a person lies down, the position prevents stomach contents from moving through the body efficiently and allows stomach acid to rise into the food pipe.
When a person is lying down and trying to sleep, symptoms such as heartburn and coughing may worsen to become painful and disruptive. Heightened symptoms can prevent a person from sleeping properly and may eventually lead to fatigue.
Feeling permanently exhausted and lacking the energy to complete simple tasks is a sign that something is wrong.
Fatigue can be a symptom of various underlying conditions, and it is important to see a doctor, who can rule out unrelated issues.
Anyone experiencing fatigue should make a note of other symptoms.
This will help the doctor make a more quick and accurate diagnosis.
Other conditions that can cause fatigue include:
- a poor diet and a lack of exercise
- autoimmune disorders
- sleep apnea
- drug or alcohol misuse
- liver or kidney failure
- heart disease
- thyroid disease
- multiple sclerosis
- myalgic encephalitis, or chronic fatigue syndrome
If GERD symptoms, such as heartburn and coughing, are interrupting a person's sleep, they should seek advice from a medical professional. Treatments a can ease symptoms and help a person to get a better night's rest.
To diagnose GERD fatigue, a doctor will begin by going through a person's medical history and asking about their symptoms.
The doctor may recommend an endoscopy. In this procedure, they insert a thin tube with a camera into the esophagus to look for signs of GERD, such as irritation caused by stomach acid on the lining of the throat.
Certain foods may make GERD symptoms worse, and keeping a food diary can help a person to identify these triggers. Try to avoid these foods to reduce symptoms.
Common trigger foods include:
- acidic foods, such as citrus fruits
- fatty foods
- spicy foods
To rule out other conditions that may be causing fatigue, a doctor will want to know about any other reasons why a person's sleep is disrupted.
Lifestyle factors that can lead to fatigue include:
- going to bed too late or too early
- eating heavy meals before bedtime
- consuming too much caffeine throughout the day
Treatment for GERD depends on how severe the condition is.
For some people, over-the-counter medications can relieve symptoms by neutralizing stomach acid or reducing the amount produced. These medications are available for purchase at pharmacies and online.
A person with severe GERD may require prescription medications.
These work the same way as over-the-counter medications, but they are stronger and help to heal damaged tissue.
The doctor will suggest removing known trigger foods and drinks from the diet. They will also recommend simple lifestyle changes, which may include:
- keeping the head elevated at night and wearing loose-fitting clothing
- losing excess weight
- quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke
- getting regular exercise
- refraining from eating right before bedtime
- eating only a light meal in the evening
- reducing caffeine intake
- avoiding alcohol in the evening
Successfully managing heartburn can help a person get to sleep efficiently and sleep for more extended periods. This can result in fatigue gradually disappearing.
If GERD is not the cause of fatigue, the doctor will recommend other treatments, which may include medication and lifestyle changes.
People can manage symptoms of GERD and any associated fatigue, with a combination of medications and healthful lifestyle choices.
If another medical condition is causing fatigue, this will also need to be diagnosed and treated.