Elevation Therapy for Acid Reflux

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How to treat heartburn using elevation therapy, or raising the head of your bed, is recommended by many physicians (including our own Dr. Dengler) as a way to relieve nighttime reflux disease symptoms. While it seems simple enough, it’s not always easy to implement, so this article provides tips to help you sleep better tonight. MedCline is one of RefluxMD’s sponsors whose support enables us to bring our message to you.

For many people with reflux disease, nighttime symptoms compound their misery by keeping them awake.  There is nothing worse than having to function the next day after a night of sleep deprivation.  String a few of those nights together and you begin a painful, downward spiral.

How to treat heartburn symptoms you’re feeling at night

Acid reflux is caused by the stomach contents coming into contact with the esophagus.  When this happens at night, those symptoms can be severe enough to wake even the soundest sleeper.   When lying in bed at night our bodies are in a horizontal position – our stomach and head are at approximately the same level.  This position makes it easy for the highly acidic contents of the stomach to flow into the esophagus, causing the painful sensation of heartburn.

More importantly, when the contents of the stomach do move into the esophagus, they tend to stay longer than they would during the day when gravity helps pull them back into the stomach. The longer they are in contact with the esophagus, the more time they have to damage the cellular lining.  As a result, nighttime acid reflux episodes result in increased symptoms AND have the potential to damage the esophagus.

What is elevation therapy?

Most physicians recommend elevation therapy to their patients suffering from reflux disease.  Elevation therapy is quite simple: you sleep on an incline that allows gravity to help keep stomach acids from contacting the esophagus.  Most physicians recommend elevating the head of the bed by 6 or more inches higher than the foot of the bed. The resulting “slanted” sleeping position allows the feet to stay below the head and allows gravity to help retain the stomach contents in the stomach. There are several ways to elevate your sleeping position to accomplish this goal:

Dictionary Therapy

This method is exactly what you would expect from its name: raising the head of the bed by placing two thick dictionaries (or other types of blocks) under the legs of the bed’s headboard.  This raises the head of the bed several inches above the footboard for the desired result.  Although inexpensive, most do not like the appearance of books or other blocks in their bedroom or the look of a constantly inclined bed.

Bed Wedges

Another option is a bed wedge, typically made of foam that fits between your mattress and your box spring.  These are commonly available at pharmacies and run between $60 and $100.  Another design allows the wedge to be placed on the top of a mattress.  However, many do not like the appearance of these wedges and those that start at the chest level typically force the user to sleep only on their back and cause the user to slide down during the night, thus eliminating the benefit of the therapy.

Inflatable Mattress Overlays

A slightly more costly product alternative that has met with significant user satisfaction is the inflatable mattress overlays that sit on top of a standard mattress or box springs. These devices may cost between $249 and $379 based upon the size of the bed, and some have the added advantage of deflation, which allows the bed to appear normal during the day.  Evening use is quick and easy due to an electric air pump that is included with the mattress.  It has a memory foam top for added comfort as well. There are several important benefits associated with this popular elevation therapy system:

  • A twin bed mattress can be used on one-half of a king bed allowing a partner to sleep without elevation.
  • When deflated, it has the appearance of any normal bed mattress.
  • This design allows sleep in any position – side, back or stomach.
  • These mattresses permit the use of standard sheets. No special cover.
  • This mattress can be folded up and placed in a suitcase when traveling.
  • Twin and full support up to 450 pounds, queen and king support up to 600 pounds.

The importance of side sleeping

Many people with reflux disease report that they are able to sleep comfortably with elevation therapy, especially when using the MedCline Reflux Relief System.  This platform ensures that you sleep in the physician recommend sleeping position, the left side rather than the right side. The position of the stomach and its relationship to the esophagus create a low point with the stomach when sleeping on the left side.  This is another technique to promote an additional barrier to upward movement of stomach contents.

The advantages of elevation therapy

There are many advantages to elevation therapy: it will reduce nighttime reflux episodes, promote faster acid clearing in the event of a reflux episode, and shorter duration of stomach content on the esophagus will promote healing.  Complications from nighttime reflux should be reduced resulting in improved quality of sleep.

If you are seeking a better night’s rest and want to promote healing of your esophagus, RefluxMD highly recommends elevation therapy. If you have reflux disease or know someone who does, this is a simple and proven method for symptom reduction and better health.

Next steps

Read about other lifestyle changes you can make to start feeling better today.

Reviewed by: Dr. Dengler, RefluxMD Medical Director

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