A new study, conducted by doctors at University of South Alabama and Duke University, holds promise for patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep related breathing disorder, and acid reflux, a painful digestive disorder. The research, conducted by Drs. Bryan T. Green and J. Barry O'Connor of Duke and Dr. William A. Broughton of USA Knollwood Sleep Disorders Center, found that the same breathing device used to help people with sleep apnea, also provides relief from nocturnal acid reflux. Their findings were published in the January 13, 2003 edition of Archives of Internal Medicine.
The study followed patients from the USA Knollwood Sleep Disorders Center diagnosed with sleep apnea, who also suffered from acid reflux, over an average of 39 months. All subjects were patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome who stop breathing repeatedly during the night. The treatment device, known as a nasal-CPAP (pronounced SEE-pap) machine, creates continuous positive airway pressure to splint the air passage open, preventing interruptions in breathing during sleep.
People with acid reflux awaken frequently at night as gastric acid backs up into the esophagus. The study suggested that treatment with the nasal-CPAP devise reduced reflux symptoms by increasing pressure in the thorax, thus preventing acid from coming back up and causing severe heartburn. Of the 165 patients in the study that adhered to nasal-CPAP treatment, 74.5 percent showed improvement in their acid reflux symptoms.
"This study provides important information on the relationship between obstructive sleep apnea and nocturnal gastroesophageal reflux, suggesting that treatment with nasal-CPAP provides improvement in both," said William A. Broughton, M.D., professor of medicine at University of South Alabama and director of the USA Knollwood Sleep Disorders Center.
Sleep apnea, characterized by snoring and interruptions in breathing, is diagnosed through polysomnography, an overnight sleep study performed at the USA Knollwood Sleep Disorders Center. Nasal-CPAP, used to treat the disorder, is administered through a mask fitted over the nose and worn during sleep. The mask is attached to a machine that delivers pressurized air through the patient's nostrils. It must be worn every night to be effective.