When you’re pregnant, severe heartburn can cause misery and fitful sleep.
A new candy-cane shaped pillow system being tested at Cleveland Clinic may bring pregnant women relief. It combines an incline wedge with a side-positioned body pillow to elevate you and keep you sleeping on your left side.
“Invariably, women develop reflux at the end of pregnancy and have very disrupted sleep,” explains gastroenterologist Scott Gabbard, MD. “This is one of the first therapies that have shown to be effective for pregnant patients, both with reflux and with sleep quality. We’re very excited about this.”
New option for a common problem
Heartburn, or acid reflux, plagues nearly half of all women during pregnancy. As the uterus expands for the growing baby, the stomach’s contents, including digestive acids, can back up into the esophagus. The result: A burning sensation in your throat or upper chest, and sometimes nausea.
Pregnant women aren’t allowed to take the proton pump inhibitor medications used to treat longstanding, chronic heartburn (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD). Dr. Gabbard believed the two-piece positional therapy device could offer another — safer — option.
Cleveland Clinic studies compelling
Early on, Cleveland Clinic researchers found that sleeping on your left side could keep food and stomach acids away from the valve to your esophagus, relieving the symptoms of GERD.
After a medical device company developed a pillow system to keep you sleeping on your left side, Cleveland Clinic decided to test it in their GERD patients. Participants in the 2014 study reported significant relief from heartburn and reflux, notes Dr. Gabbard.
In 2015, his team tested the pillow system in 17 pregnant women who were in their second trimester. The patients, recruited from a Cleveland Clinic obstetrics clinic, suffered frequent, moderate-to-severe heartburn and regurgitation at night.
After completing questionnaires about their GERD and their sleep quality, the women used the pillow system for two weeks, then repeated the questionnaires. The results showed:
- A 65 percent improvement in nighttime GERD, in the impact of GERD the following morning, and in their concern about nighttime GERD
- A 49 percent improvement in sleep quality
Looking to the future
“Any time we can find an alternative to medications, that’s a good thing,” says Dr. Gabbard. “Although proton pump inhibitors don’t have a lot of side effects, they do have some potentially long-term effects.”
His team is tracking study participants through pregnancy and delivery to document the pillow system’s effects. The results may help persuade insurers to cover the pillow system.