Digestive and gastrointestinal issues are not commonly the first thing one thinks of when dealing with sleep apnea. However, sleep apnea is commonly linked to other conditions including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.
Some studies point to a connection between sleep apnea and gastrointestinal problems. In this article, we will take a closer look at the connection and attempt to answer the question: “Does Sleep Apnea Cause Stomach Bloating?”
Sleep Apnea - What Is It?
Before we explore the connection between sleep apnea and stomach bloating, let’s learn a bit more about sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a medical condition that is characterized by someone who stops and starts breathing repeatedly while in bed sleeping. There are several types of sleep apnea with the most common of them being obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is where the throat muscles relax too much and end up collapsing, which results in a blocked airway.
In other words, the path of airflow is obstructed. There are two other types of sleep apnea: central sleep apnea (CSA) which is the result of an inability of the brain to properly control the respiratory muscle activity, and mixed sleep apnea where an individual suffers from both OSA and CSA at the same time. Sleep apnea impacts about 3% of individuals of normal weight but affects over 20% of individuals classified as being overweight.
How Sleep Apnea Stresses Your Body
When you have untreated obstructive sleep apnea or upper airway resistance syndrome, a stress response can be triggered on your body. When the body responds to that stress, the nervous system is activated and blood flow is diverted. Your body will send blood to your heart and core muscles so that you can either fight or run. In doing this, your body reduces the amount of blood that is in the digestive system, including the bowels.
This impaired the normal process that takes place when food is being consumed. For example, with less blood flow in the digestive system, the process of acid secretion, bile production, rhythmic movement of the muscles that move food through the body, and absorption of nutrients are all impacted. In other words, as your body deals with stress, eating something can result in pain, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, or bloating.
Does Sleep Apnea Cause Stomach Bloating? Five Connected Conditions.
There are a total of five different gastrointestinal conditions that have been linked to sleep disruptions or sleep apnea. They include the following:
Obstructive sleep apnea has a close association with acid reflux. There is such a strong connection between the two that many studies have been conducted that focus on how sleep apnea can trigger acid reflux and how acid reflux can trigger sleep apnea. Some studies reveal that treatments used to control sleep apnea can reduce acid reflux symptoms and that by treating acid reflux, the severity of sleep apnea is reduced. We warned you that there was a close association between the two.
So, does sleep apnea cause stomach bloating? The simple answer is that the vacuum-like negative pressure that apnea creates in the chest wall creates the perfect conditions which allow acid, bacteria, bile, and digestive enzymes to be brought up. There is also documented proof that shows the digestive enzyme pepsin has been found in the middle ear, lungs, and sinuses of patients with sleep apnea.
The connection between sleep apnea and a gluten-free diet is complicated. There is proof that after going on a gluten-free diet, those who suffer from sleep apnea have experienced an improvement in their sleep conditions. However, that does not seem to be the case for celiac patients.
This is according to a study conducted by the University of Naples. Plus, there has been an interesting observation since, by doctors that indicates patients with celiac symptoms, whether that is celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, all have small jaws and extremely narrow airways. This could explain the connection between sleep apnea and celiac disease.
A study from Spain says that obstructive sleep apnea is linked to an increase in cancer risk for all types of cancer. The increased risk was noted in just men younger than 65 years of age. The connection appears to come from lower levels of oxygen that increase cancer risk. The specific type of cancer noted to be impacted most is colon cancer.
Other studies have resulted in evidence that shows the risk of colon cancer increases if a patient either has too little or too much sleep. Other cancers that were noted to have an increase of risk related to sleep patterns were lung, breast, and prostate cancers.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (including Chron’s, Ulcerative Colitis)
Research conducted by Rush University proved another connection between sleep and the digestive system. This study looked at the comparison of sleep quality in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to patients without IBD. The diseases examined included Chron’s or ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel disease.
The study resulted in a total of 13% of all participants showing signs of obstructive sleep apnea. The study also revealed that the arousal index was double for individuals with IBD and IBS compared to those without.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
A study conducted in Israel at the Ben-Gurion University and Soroka University showed an increase in sleep fragmentation, a doubling of the arousal index, and less deep sleep in subjects with IBS. The study revealed that half of the participants in the study had sleep apnea. This verifies another gastrointestinal disease connection to sleep apnea.
Can CPAP Cause Bloating?
It is quite common for CPAP users to experience digestive issues. Most commonly, CPAP users suffer from something called aerophagia. Aerophagia is the swallowing of too much air and this is directly linked to stomach bloating. Typically, if someone is new to CPAP therapy, they will develop the symptoms of aerophagia. Normally, it subsides over time.
Ways To Reduce The Conditions That Can Lead To Aerophagia
There are many ways to assist in reducing the risk of experiencing aerophagia. They include trying any of the suggestions listed below:
- Eating lighter suppers by reducing the volume of food consumed as your last meal of the day.
- Use the chin strap that is part of the CPAP mask. For individuals who sleep with their mouths open, swallowing excess air is a real risk. Using the chin strap reduces this tremendously.
- The technique of holding your tongue to the roof of the mouth behind the front teeth helps reduce the amount of air that can be swallowed from the CPAP mask. It may take some time to get used to doing this, but the technique has assisted every CPAP user with this issue.
- Take a medication that is formulated to combat digestive gas production. There are several different brands available over the counter and you may have to try more than one until you find the product that works best.
Does sleep apnea cause stomach bloating? Well, there is an obvious connection between both conditions. Studies have shown that treating one helps reduce the risk of the other and vice versa. The main root of the problem is the amount of air that can get into the mouth. By swallowing too much air, conditions are created that can result in stomach bloating.
For individuals who use CPAP machines to combat sleep apnea, they have to be careful to sleep in such a manner that excess air is blocked from passing into the stomach. As we’ve indicated above, it is quite involved but there are many different solutions that can help. And when you consider treating one condition helps reduce the risk of the other one, anything you can do to treat either sleep apnea or stomach bloating is going to be a benefit.