Bedtime Soon After Meals Raises Reflux Risk in Pregnancy

Heidi Splete

April 12, 2021

A shorter period between eating and going to sleep increased the risk of GERD during pregnancy by approximately 12%, according to data from 400 women.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common condition in pregnancy because of changes in gastrointestinal motility caused by hormonal changes, and a short meal-to-bed time (MTBT) also has been associated with increased GERD symptoms, but data on the impact of MTBT on GERD in pregnant women in particular are lacking, wrote Duc T. Quach, MD, of the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and colleagues.

In a cross-sectional study published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, the researchers identified 400 pregnant women aged 18 years and older in various stages of pregnancy who were seen at a single hospital in Vietnam. A short MTBT was defined as going to bed 2 hours or less after eating. Primary outcomes were GERD, defined as troublesome heartburn and/or regurgitation at least once a week, and reflux-related insomnia, defined as trouble initiating or maintaining nighttime sleep. Participants also reported the number of days of troublesome reflux symptoms and frequency of reflux-related insomnia over the last 7 days.

A total of 154 participants had a diagnosis of GERD, for an overall prevalence of 38.5%, similar to that seen in GERD studies of GERD and pregnancy, the researchers noted, and of those with GERD, 20 participants (13.0%) reported reflux-related insomnia.

The overall prevalence of heartburn, regurgitation, nausea with or without vomiting, and epigastric pain were 11.8%, 35.8%, 30.0%, and 5.5%, respectively. A total of 139 women reported reflux symptoms on at least 2 of the past 7 days, and 40 women reported both daytime and nighttime reflux symptoms.

Short Meal-to-Bed Time Shows Strongest Association

A short MTBT was the strongest predictor of GERD in multivariate analysis (odds ratio, 12.73; 95% confidence interval, 2.92-55.45; P = .001); previous history of reflux symptoms (OR, 9.05; 95% CI, 5.29-15.50; P < 001) and being in the third trimester versus first or second of pregnancy (OR, 1.66, 95% CI, 1.03-2.69; P = .039) also remained significant predictors in a multivariate analysis. In addition, nighttime short MTBT (but not daytime short MTBT) was the strongest risk factor for reflux-related insomnia (OR, 4.60), although alcohol consumption and a history of reflux-related symptoms also remained significant in multivariate analysis.

"Interestingly, the number of days during which reflux symptoms were experienced during the last 7 days sequentially increased across subgroups of participants with no short MTBT, either daytime or nighttime short MTBT, and with both daytime and nighttime MTBT," the researchers wrote. At 4-7 days, none of the patients with no short MTBT reported reflux symptoms, compared with 7.5% of those with either daytime or nighttime MTBT and 20.9% of those with both daytime and nighttime MTBT.

The study findings were limited by several factors, including the inability to accurately record participants' diets and the potential for overestimating the odds ratio of risk factors in patients with reflux-related insomnia because of the small numbers. However, the results support findings from previous studies and suggest that dietary modifications could provide a nonpharmacological treatment target for managing GERD in pregnant women, they concluded.

Behavioral Intervention May Benefit Pregnant Women

The study is important because heartburn and regurgitation are common challenges during pregnancy, Ziad F. Gellad, MD, of Duke University, Durham, N.C., said in an interview. "Understanding risk factors for these conditions can be helpful in designing behavioral and pharmaceutical therapeutic interventions."

The link between short MTBT and increased risk for GERD is well-known, said Gellad. "Lengthening the time to laying supine after a meal is a common recommendation given to patients with GERD and is included in published GERD guidelines." Although pregnant woman may have been excluded from trials on which the guidelines and recommendations are based, "it is reasonable to expect that findings would translate to this population that is generally higher risk for reflux," he noted.

Gellad was interested to see the dose response between MTBT and reflux, with those patients having both daytime and nighttime short MTBT experiencing reflux more often than those with short MTBT in only one of those time periods (4-7 days vs. 1-3 days).

The key message for clinicians is that, for all individuals, pregnant or not, "avoiding late night meals and short meal-to-bed time is an appropriate behavioral intervention to recommend for patients with troublesome heartburn or regurgitation," Gellad emphasized. However, more research is needed in some areas, "implementation studies would be helpful to understand how best to educate patients on behavioral modifications known to decrease reflux symptoms."

The study received no outside funding. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose. Gellad had no relevant financial disclosures, but serves as a member of the GI & Hepatology News board of editors.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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