Trouble Sleeping and Gastroesophageal Reflux

Determining whether reflux is causing an infant to have trouble sleeping is quite difficult as a practical matter.  A recent retrospective study adds information to this topic but opens up a can of worms (JPGN 2013; 56: 431-35).

The main problem is that clinical reflux occurs in the majority of infants and that sleeping problems are ubiquitous as well.  This leaves the door open to testing a lot of infants. At the  same time, effective therapeutic options are limited.  So, identifying that reflux is causing trouble sleeping, when feasible, may be akin to getting the license plate of the truck that ran you over.

In this retrospective study (2008-2010) of 24 infants with a median age of 5 months, 18 were receiving acid-suppressing medications prior to evaluation.  Determination that reflux was causally associated with awakenings and arousals was determined with symptom association probabilities (SAP) based on 2-minute measurement intervals with multichannel intraluminal impedance/pH monitoring/simultaneous polysomnography; SAP was considered significant if ≥95%.

Findings: Seven patients had a positive SAP for arousals due to GER (5 exclusively related to non-acid GER).  Nine patients had a positive SAP for awakenings due to GER (4 exclusively related to non-acid GER).

There were several limitations of the study.  Besides the small size, the main limitation of this retrospective study was a selection bias.  Other limitations included a large number of patients with comorbid conditions and the coincident usage of acid-suppressing medications.  19 of 24 patients had one or more significant comorbid conditions: laryngomalacia in 10, prematurity in 5, genetic syndromes in 3, esophageal atresia in 1, and SLE in 1.

Take-home point: This study is in agreement with the general consensus that GER (acid and non-acid) may trigger sleep interruptions in infants. Nevertheless, given the lack of impact on management, only rarely will infants with poor sleep benefit from these investigations.

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