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Do Zolpidem (Ambien) Side Effects Include Horrible Heartburn?

If patients are warned about Zolpidem (Ambien) side effects they may be told about morning hangover or driving impairment. Indigestion may not be mentioned.
Do Zolpidem (Ambien) Side Effects Include Horrible Heartburn...
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Zolpidem remains a very popular prescription sleeping aid. When it was only available as the brand name drug Ambien, millions took it to get a “good night’s sleep.” These days zolpidem (Ambien) side effects have people worried. Sleepwalking, sleep eating and sleep driving are just three worrisome complications (Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, Dec. 15, 2011).  Another serious side effect is severe heartburn, as this reader relates:

Q. I have been taking zolpidem (the generic version of Ambien) for several years. I’ve had horrific heartburn for the past three months and was put on Nexium.

I experimented three nights ago and just took myself off of the zolpidem. During that time, I haven’t had any heartburn at all. Nor have I had to take Nexium. I feel much better in the morning without the hangover from this sleeping med.

Zolpidem (Ambien) Side Effects Include Indigestion:

A. Many people don’t realize that zolpidem can cause digestive distress for some patients. “Dyspepsia,” an old-fashioned term for indigestion, is listed as a frequent side effect. It may include nausea or vomiting as well as heartburn.

Other Heartburn Stories from Readers:

Jessica also reports GI problems with zolpidem:

“I am in my early 30’s and have been taking Ambien CR (zolpidem generic) for several years. My acid reflux is so bad that I thought I had an ulcer. After visiting this website I no longer believe that is the case.

“Now I believe it is the zolpidem causing my acid reflux symptoms. Because my insomnia issues are so severe I am concerned about how to quit this drug.”

R.M. was dismissed by his doctor:

“After taking zolpidem for 20 days I started having stomach cramps, bloating, acid reflux, heartburn and a nervous feeling. Finally, after 4 days of not taking it, I’m feeling better. The doctor that prescribed zolpidem didn’t agree that these side effects were due to the medicine.”

Carole had a similar experience:

“I started to have burning, reflux and a whole gamut of stomach issues after one month on zolpidem. I believe there is a high enough percentage of the population that experiences significant gastro problems that doctors should make the connection. I would rather have restless sleep than be in pain all day.”

C.M. shares this experience with Ambien:

“I am lucky I found this website. I took Ambien for a number of years. I usually swallowed 1/2 a 5mg tablet. Last year I got switched to zolpidem and got the ordered filled with 10mg tabs. I usually bite half of one a few nights a week.

“In the past three months I have developed intolerable GI problems and abdominal pain. Having found these posts I have gone pretty much cold turkey getting off the zolpidem. GI and abdominal issues are clearly subsiding.

“My doc had no idea what was going on. Since I have only take Ambien/zolpidem you would think he would have known of this correlation and made some suggestions. I see a GI doc in 2 weeks – we’ll see if he makes the connection.”

Other Zolpidem (Ambien) Side Effects:

  • Drowsiness, dizziness, morning-after hangover, driving impairment, confusion, amnesia
  • Fatigue, lethargy, drugged feeling, falling
  • Digestive upset (diarrhea, abdominal pain, constipation, hiccups, heartburn)
  • Headache
  • Sinusitis, stuffy nose, sore throat
  • Dry mouth
  • Heart palpitations
  • Depression, suicidal thoughts
  • Flu-like feelings

Don’t Stop Suddenly: Zolpidem (Ambien) Side Effects & Complications:

The FDA requires the manufactures of zolpidem to list the following under Warnings and Precautions:

“Withdrawal effects:

“There have been reports of withdrawal signs and symptoms following the rapid dose decrease or abrupt discontinuation of zolpidem. Monitor patients for tolerance, abuse, and dependence.”

Under the heading Dependence, the FDA mandated label mentions that sleeping pills like zolpidem can produce symptoms upon “abrupt discontinuation.” They include:

  • Dysphoria (feeling bad, unwell, unhappy, anxious, restless, sad), uncontrolled crying
  • Insomnia
  • Digestive distress (stomach pain, nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting)
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Fatigue, lightheadedness
  • Flushing,
  • Nervousness, panic attacks

The FDA does not provide instructions on how to phase off zolpidem gradually. The official prescribing information implies that any withdrawal symptoms will only last one to two days. We suspect that some patients may discover that the problem lasts longer than that. Gradual tapering over several weeks or months may be necessary. Unfortunately, the tablets do not come in tiny doses that will make that process easy.

Anyone who experiences zolpidem (Ambien) side effects, whether sleepwalking or reflux should discuss the situation with the prescriber. A tailored phase out may be the best way forward.

To learn more about alternatives to zolpidem, you may find our Guide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep helpful.

Share any zolpidem (Ambien) side effects you may have experienced below in the comment section.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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