How are Sleep Apnea and GI Disorders Related?

They are definitely related, but the main reason can be a cause of one or many, mixed factors.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and gastrointestinal (GI) disorders are becoming increasingly linked due to the recognition of their shared symptoms. Recent medical research has been able to demonstrate a strong relationship between these two conditions and the effects they have on our health.

It is important to understand how sleep apnea and GI disorders can be related, as early identification and treatment of one condition can help prevent the development or progression of the other.

How are Sleep Apnea and Gi Disorders Related?

OSA and GI disorders often go hand in hand. A recent study found that patients who were diagnosed with OSA were at a higher risk for developing GI disorders, such as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), Barrett’s esophagus, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), or functional dyspepsia (upset stomach for no apparent reason).

Understanding the connection between sleep apnea and GI problems can help physicians better diagnose and treat both conditions.

Recent research suggests that sleep apnea-associated episodes may lead to an increase of gastric acid secretion, which could contribute to gastroesophageal reflux or other GI issues.

One study found that 50% of people with sleep apnea also suffer from acid reflux disease. Another found that 55% of patients who suffer from a GI disorder have either OSA, insomnia, or both! These numbers definitely mean they are related, but how?

With all the bodily functions that sleep apneic episodes and GI disorders can affect, the direct reasoning for the GI/OSA relation remains mixed. It is more-like, a combination of different affects and factors that they both share.

Relatable Factors of Sleep Apnea and GI Disorders

  • No Exercise – Not exercising can lead to obesity. Obesity is related to both OSA and GI disorders
  • Improper Diet – Not eating healthy foods can lead to obesity and cause OSA and/or acid reflux.
  • Alcohol – Alcohol before bedtime is known to cause throat muscles to relax which causes obstruction of the airway (OSA). Alcohol also can cause GI problems such as GERD.
  • One Causes the Other – Over time, either sleep apnea or a GI disorder, like GERD, can progress and cause the other to start occurring.

Treating Sleep Apnea and/or GERD Helps

Recent studies have shown that treating one of the two conditions, GERD or Sleep Apnea, can lead to improvements in the other. 42 patients with sleep apnea and GERD were given CPAP treatment for sleep apnea for 6 months.

62% of the patients had improvement in GERD symptoms or quit having it completely.

Then, there is research that the opposite is true, which is treating GERD to help improve sleep apnea symptoms. Treating acid reflux, either with lifestyle changes or medication, helps to reduce esophageal spasms which causes the throat to close and be more obstructive causing sleep apnea.

This is good news for individuals who suffer from both conditions as it may reduce their symptoms and improve their quality of life by only treating one issue.


It is evident that sleep apnea and GI disorders are closely linked. Studies have shown that people with OSA are at an increased risk for developing certain GI problems, such as GERD, functional dyspepsia, and IBS.

Furthermore, those already diagnosed with a GI disorder may experience exacerbation of their symptoms in the presence of sleep apnea.

For example, did you know that sleep apnea can cause night sweats and frequent nighttime urination? Therefore, it is essential to be aware of the possibility that sleep apnea may be contributing to many issues, and not just digestive.

If you have one, or both, of any of the symptoms mentioned, be sure to set up an appointment with your family doctor.