Acid reflux refers to the sour acid that can sometimes creep up from your stomach and go into your mouth or throat. It’s not uncommon to experience acid reflux and heartburn, especially after eating spicy foods or a large meal. However, if you experience these two conditions at least twice per week, then you may have a more serious problem known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.
GERD is a digestive disorder that affects the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is a ring of muscles between the esophagus and stomach. These muscles are normally taut, keeping the opening from your stomach to your esophagus closed. When you eat or drink something, the muscles relax so the food or liquid can travel down into your stomach. They then tighten once the contents reach the stomach. In people with GERD, however, the muscles are weak or relax irregularly. This prevents the LES from closing completely, allowing stomach contents to come back up into the throat.
The condition is more likely to develop in people who are pregnant or overweight. It may also affect people who have certain health conditions, such as asthma or diabetes.
The prolonged acid reflux associated with GERD can cause irritation and inflammation in the esophagus, leading to a condition called esophagitis. Esophagitis may make it difficult or painful to swallow. When left untreated, GERD can also damage your esophageal lining and cause esophageal ulcers. This may result in bleeding, narrowing of the esophagus, or Barrett’s esophagus.
Some common treatments for GERD include antacids, prescription medications (H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors), and surgery. However, there are also several lifestyle changes that can help you find relief from your symptoms. If you often experience GERD symptoms at night, you may benefit from using a GERD wedge pillow.
How It Works
The way that acid reflux and GERD wedge pillows work is simple. Acid can leak out of the stomach and into the esophagus more easily when a person is sleeping on their back and using a standard pillow. A wedge pillow slightly elevates the head, shoulders, and torso to prevent this from happening. When the upper body is elevated, gravity makes it less likely for stomach contents to come back up into the esophagus.
You can use a wedge pillow while sleeping on your side or on your back without causing any tension in the head or neck. Most pillows on the market are elevated between 30 to 45 degrees, or six to eight inches at the top.
Wedge pillows for acid reflux and GERD are sturdy and ergonomically designed. As time passes, however, they will lose their shape and firmness. You will likely have to replace your wedge pillow with another one after several years.
Types of Wedge Pillows
The Miracle Wedge pillow is a 24-inch by 24-inch memory foam pillow with an incline of 7 inches. It has a hypoallergenic, washable, and removable cover. The Miracle Wedge pillow also comes with a three-year warranty. The pillow can be used by people who prefer to sleep on their side or on their back.
Medslant is a 32-inch by 24-inch pillow that elevates the torso by 7 inches. The incline allows people to sleep on either their side or back. The wedge pillow can be used with or without a regular pillow. It is made with 100 percent hypoallergenic polyurethane, and comes with a washable travel cover. The Medslant may also be placed in a crib, making it possible for infants with acid reflux to use it.
Posthera’s Comfort Lift wedge pillows are specifically designed for people with moderate to severe acid reflux. Three standard sizes — small, medium, and large — all work to elevate your torso by 30 to 40 degrees.
The small wedge pillow features an adjustable 2-inch height. The medium and large sizes have a three-inch height adjustment. All pillows are made with memory foam and have a one-inch topper. Your size and weight will determine which pillow size works best for you.
Posthera also has another model, called the “Comfort Lift Pillow Supreme.” This model is designed for people with mild to moderate acid reflux. It features “wings” that people can use when they sleep on their side.
Risks and Side Effects
Unlike other treatments for acid reflux and GERD, including medications, there are no risks or side effects associated with wedge pillows. You may decide to try another type of wedge pillow or to stop using one completely if you don’t like it.
What the Experts Say
Elevating your head during sleep is an effective lifestyle treatment for GERD. The Mayo Clinic suggests that you insert a wedge between your mattress and box spring to elevate your body from the waist up if it isn’t possible to elevate the head of your bed. Just using additional ordinary pillows isn’t effective. Other lifestyle remedies for acid reflux and GERD include:
- eating smaller meals
- avoiding foods that trigger heartburn and other symptoms
- not lying down for at least three hours after eating
- maintaining a healthy weight
- limiting alcohol consumption
- quitting smoking
Speak with your doctor on how you can further relieve your GERD symptoms.