older man with heartburn, acid reflux or indigestion

Q. I have suffered from acid reflux for about six months, and it kept getting worse and worse. Nothing that I tried was helping.

I read some comments on your Web site that Ambien might cause heartburn. The light bulb went off: seven months ago my mother died and my sister-in-law broke her hip. I was under great stress and couldn’t sleep, so my doctor prescribed Ambien. Soon after I started taking it, I had my first awful experience with acid reflux, but I didn’t make the connection.

The only way I could sleep was to take Ambien, but the reflux was unbelievable. As soon as I read about it, I made a doctor’s appointment, but I also skipped the Ambien that night. I didn’t sleep much, but the reflux wasn’t as bad. The next night I did not take Ambien, slept a bit better and had very little reflux. Last night I repeated the experiment and had NO reflux although I slept fairly well.

I am thrilled. I’d much rather cope with a sleepless night from time to time than the horrible pain. Is heartburn listed as a side effect?

A. The prescribing information lists “dyspepsia,” a general term for indigestion, as a side effect. Although there isn’t much research on this complication, dozens of visitors to our Web site have reported reflux linked to Ambien.

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  1. M

    Finally, I see what the problem is. I have been taking Ambien more often lately and heartburn has become severe. I’ve been trying to figure out why because my eating habits have not changed, I thought maybe my body is changing. But now I believe it’s the Ambien. Thanks for your comments, no more Ambien for me.

  2. TL

    After gallbladder removal, things seemed fine. Once I started Ambien again, the acid reflux was back with a vengeance!! I’ve had trouble with very debilitating acid reflux while on Ambien, to the point of causing severe depression for over a year. Each time I go off of Ambien the reflux gets better. I just called my doctor today to change medications. 10mg of Ambien at night makes me have indigestion through the day with every meal. I have changed diets numerous times. It was not long ago that I connected the dots to Ambien, but now am convinced after the gallbladder removal it is Ambien. The hours I have researched GERDS online are staggering along with endoscopy, colonoscopy, and self trials. No more Ambien for me.

  3. Lisa T.

    I started taking Ambien 10mg in December 2011. By January I was having serious acid reflex, back pain, chest pain, and pain on the right side everyday. Doctor sent me to the GI specialist who tried 5 different proton pump inhibitors with no relief. Went to the ER over the chest pain last month and had several major tests done that concluded nothing. So, back to the GI doctor who said I would need to have GERD surgery to get rid of the problem. Last Friday, I stopped taking the Ambien and wouldn’t you know all my symptoms have gone away!! I hope this message helps someone because this journey has been awful!! I had nooo idea that AMBIEN could cause such issues. I will NEVER take any medication to help me sleep again.

  4. jh

    Has anyone had changes in their bowel functions due to taking Ambien? While I am actually sleeping now, I have had some reflux discomfort but not enough to notice a pattern. However, my bowel functions have changed since about the time I’ve been taking Ambien. I am wondering if it’s all related. I have been taking probiotics and fiber supplements to help get my digestive tract in line again.

  5. Kristine

    I cannot believe this! I have been on ambien for 5 yrs. My reflux was getting worse and worse and finally the last couple of years it was completely debilitating. I’ve had every test imaginable and have seen a GI doc and a surgeon thinking that I needed surgery. I have a hiatal hernia so we all thought that was the cause. I stopped taking ambien 4 days ago and my heartburn has improved. Praise GOD! I haven’t worked in a year and felt severely fatigue daily. I hope this all resolves itself now that I’m not taking the ambien. WOW!

  6. cheri

    Yes, I had some slight GERD problems with this drug. But the biggest problem was sitting up in bed and talking out loud (in the middle of the night) and having no memory of it the next day!
    I know someone who took it and got up to look for her tennis shoes the next morning and found them in her dishwasher!

  7. ella

    Been using this drug for how many months now. Periodically I use this in occasions where I am totally stressed and need to sleep immediately. This drug works better for me than any other sleeping pill.

  8. elke

    greg, the pharmacy student commented on a listener’s GERD problem, saying that there is a muscle on the bottom and top of the stomach and that certain foods, drinks (coffee, etc) relax the top muscle and the acid comes back up (reflux). Since Ambien relaxes and knocks you out, perhaps it relaxes the stomach muscle and gives you the reflux/heartburn. A reader on this blog now takes Trazodone for sleep instead and has no more problem. It’s a $4 item at Walmart by prescription.

  9. Marcia O.

    I had similar serious problems with acid reflux, trying most every product on the market, both prescription or over-the-counter. I tried to force myself to continue each medication thinking I would eventually adapt, but the symptoms worsen. If I took one medication for a month or so, it was most difficult to discontinue.
    I decided I just had to do something so started shopping for an adjustable bed where the head could be raised. Looking at the prices and not knowing if raising the head would even work, I decided to adapt my existing bed for a brief trial. I found a triangle foam block on the Internet for about $25 which I inserted under the top of my mattress so it gradually slopes up about six inches. Wow!! I immediately felt my acid reflux diminishing until it has disappeared, that is unless I eat something exceptionally spicy. I rotate and turn over the mattress every six months in January and July. After five years I have not noticed any wear on the mattress itself. My husband and I have twin mattresses attached to a king-sized headboard so it was easy to adapt only my side of the bed. I sleep on my back normally but can curl up on either side if I want to. I do not feel like I am sleeping sitting up; I feel like I am flat. Sleeping on my back was difficult to learn at first — took six months — but now I love it. This position also lessens existing neck and back pain, I put my head pillows under my knees at night for support.

  10. Lisa

    I had the same experience with Lunesta. The doctor said it was approved for long term use and started me on it. Taking it about 4 to 5 times a week for 2 weeks, I started having wicked heartburn. It felt like needles in my stomach and up into my throat. Into the 3rd week, one night my heart was racing and pounding so hard I thought I was having a heart attack and was only 42!
    I got out of bed, got on this site, drank vinegar per recommendations and NEVER took Lunesta again!

  11. paula

    I take 1/2 tab ambien occasionally and have not had problems with it. Try taking a little food with the pill before you go to bed.

  12. L. E. Ballew

    I read with interest your l2/30/2009 column from a reader who suffered from chronic insomnia. I too was in the same boat and tried all of the things the doctor recommended (all the over-the-counter drugs plus ambien which made me sick). I would not go to sleep until 3-4 in the morning and then wake up at 6:00 o’clock. I would be nauseated all day. This went on a long time. Finally, my doctor gave me Trazadone 50MG (take a little before bedtime). It is a prescription drug and is rather cheap, but it works for me and can be taken long term.

  13. diane in seattle

    For the past four or five years, I have taken Ambien occasionally (a week or 10 days at a time) three or four times a year when I travel internationally on business. Is there any data to suggest that occasional use may be linked to acid reflux? I began suffering from acid reflux maybe two years ago. Thanks, appreciate any additional information if available.

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