The People's Perspective on Medicine

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.
People, healthcare and problem concept – unhappy woman suffering from stomach ache over gray background

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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I have been on ambien 10 mg for almost 10 months. I have the episodes where I don’t remember things from the night before whic is scary! Also began to have throat burning/vocal cords inflamed & went to an ENT & he scoped several times but said he couldn’t understand the issue. So sent me to a gastric specialist & he had me set up for an esophageal implant ($441) to measure acid in throat as side of throat , ears & vocal cords are so inflamed! I have never had any previous GI issues & I am 55. I am definitely going to stop the ambien & hopefully problems with throat & GI will subside. I have been diagnosed firstly with tonsillitis. Then after meds didn’t work for that I was sent to ENT, and he was truly confused!

Thanks to those who wrote about their GI issues so I can try getting off instead of invasive testing & cost!!
This issue has ruled my life since Mar. 18 and it is now Sept. 18. I’ve been on 5 drugs for allergies, multiple antibiotics & then 4 pro pump inhibitors! Just been really hard to deal with, and drs looks like ‘I just don’t understand but we will try this cuz I can see how bad it is when I scope you’. Wow!!!

Last night I woke up every few hours. Here I sit at my computer at 1 am….slept one hour then insomnia again but I don’t dare take Zolpidem/ Ambien because I have taken it 3 times in the past week and have been constipated for 3 days.

I also ate a whole box of crackers the 2nd night I was on it. I have severe gastro issues and never made the connection to Ambien mainly because I normally only take 5 mg once every week or two. Not sure what the answer is to get some sleep. I am running on empty.

Took Ambien for years, from probably the first day it came on the market (somewhere around 1992}. My wife and I thought it was a miracle since I was finally sleeping after literally years of insomnia. Took 10mg/night as prescribed, never any side effects, except maybe for some nighttime binge eating. Did eventually, after 14 years, become habituated to it big time and
had to stop, which was very difficult. Now I’m back in insomnia land, my body finally adjusting to life without it, but still some very hellish nights. Oh, I did discover on my own that it’s very acidic and can do damage to tooth enamel if you dissolve it in your mouth and fall asleep, which I did on occasion. Paying the piper (dentist) for that. Other than that it’s a very effective sleep inducer with minimal side effects if taken as directed. I know from talking to people who have abused it that if you do you will find yourself sideways (or upside down) and quickly. Hope this helps someone.

My wife, now 84, was on 10mg Ambien, then Zolpidem when It became available for 5 years. She had 2 ‘mini’ strokes at the end of that time frame and as a result, completely lost her short term memory. Long term ok. An MRI by her Neurologist revealed massive areas of missing brain tissue around the periphery of her brain. He surmised the Ambien + the strokes probably caused it.

End result: She lost all interest in anything, is almost totally helpless and just sits looking out the window all day every day. Her 62 yo daughter felt I could no longer care for all her needs because of my 84 years, and is taking her away from me through the court system. I am completely and totally devastated.

I had such awful acid reflux and burning from my stomach to the tip of my tongue
That doctor ordered scope to see if I had erosion that could lead to esophageal cancer. Inflamed but no ulcer/cancer. I had numerous other issues that were ALL found to be side effects from Ambien.

I am very careful now w any med and take as few as possible. I double check w pharmacy any med and also double check info from doctors after one increased/changed my thyroid med to one better absorbed at same time. For a year my BP went very high…had been normal….the Dr who prescribed said it wasn’t the new med causing.

I asked pharmacy if thyroid med could cause BP to increase and YES
SHE SAID…IF THYROID MED TO HIGH!!!!!!

NOW KIDNEY FUNCTION OFF…PROBABLY DUE TO THIS WRONG…TOO LARGE DOSE GIVEN. BP WENT TO 212/140 BEFORE DOCTORS PAID ATTENTION. I BELIEVE DRUG COMPANIES SELLING DOCTOR ON NEW MEDS (5 TIMES MORE EXPENSIVE THAN SYNTHOID).

I no longer trust drug companies or doctors TOTALLY as I used to……..double check!!

My comments concern an episode my husband had. He was in the hospital about to have bypass surgery. They gave him Plavix in the ER (which he was taking) but before he could have the surgery, he had to wait 5 days until the drug was out of his system. This entailed lying flat with a balloon in the artery. In order to help him sleep, they gave him a half Ambien. I got a phone call from the hospital at 4 a.m. asking me to come there as he was “disoriented”.

I rushed there to find that he was hallucinating, thinking he had been taken to Communist China. The technician who wanted to take an X-ray was Asian, and this triggered the fear. It took several days to calm him down, as he was seeing all manner of things that weren’t there. It was a very frightening experience.

I have never taken these types of drugs, but have had severe acid reflux which I basically cured myself. Like with protein pump inhibitors, it is amazing how little is known about the side effects which then may force you to take even more drugs. Many doctors seem to be clueless and are so willing to just write another prescription.

Are there natural treatments for an abscessed tooth – seems like some conditions should be left to the professionals (doctors, dentists)????

I was prescribed Ambien as an aid to eliminate depression-induced insomnia by my psychiatrist. Within a few short months, I experienced a night-eating episode. One morning I woke up out on my back porch (I had gone to sleep in my second floor bedroom) and my mouth was filled with blue-black bits which I first thought to be cockroaches. I had no idea how I had gotten out on the porch and when I went in the house to look in the mirror to see what was in my mouth, I saw the blue tortilla corn chips strewn about. I blamed my cat, Winston, who loved them, until I saw them in my own mouth in the mirror.

I was horrified, having not one shred of a memory of even awakening in the night. I later found the bag stashed in the refrigerator. (I usually kept them in the pantry.) I discussed this at my next appointment. My MD immediately took me off the drug and told me that I was the fourth person in two months that had had a scary nocturnal episode such as mine and that she would no longer be prescribing it as a result. It might not seem scary to simply read this, but to experience the complete loss of control over your behavior and also your memory of the event is frightening indeed.

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