For many people, meals come with an unwanted side order: heartburn. But heartburn has a more sinister aspect that can show up well after people leave the table. Acid reflux at night, which can have serious long-term health consequences, often causes sleep problems, suggests a new medical survey.
The pain of heartburn results from acidic stomach fluids rising into the esophagus. Various factors, including what a person eats and drinks, can weaken the gate-like sphincter muscle that normally confines the fluids to the stomach.
Estimates of the prevalence of all forms of reflux range from about 10 percent to nearly 50 percent of adults. According to the new report, about one-quarter of adults are aroused from sleep by heartburn at least twice a month. "It is a stunning number," says gastroenterologist Ronnie Fass of the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System iin Tucson, who led the study.