IBS and GERD Similarities and Treatments

In one of those unfortunate twists of fate, persons with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) will often find themselves having to deal with another disorder, known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), affecting the upper GI tract.

Doctor talking with senior patient in office
Hero Images / Getty Images

In fact, studies suggest that anywhere 25 percent to 32 percent of people with IBS will suffer both disorders. Because IBS and GERD share many of the same characteristics, as many as 81 percent will experience an overlap of symptoms. This can sometimes lead to a delay in the diagnosis of the co-existing (comorbid) condition as well as the delivery of appropriate treatment.

Understanding why this happens can help you develop a more effective strategy for managing your range of symptoms if you both IBS and GERD.

Signs and Symptoms of GERD

GERD is a condition in which the sphincter at the bottom of your esophagus does not work properly. Because of this, the contents of the stomach can sometimes back up (reflux) into the esophagus.

Symptoms of GERD include:

  • A burning sensation in the chest (heartburn), sometimes spreading to the throat accompanied by a bitter taste in the mouth
  • Regurgitation of food or liquid (acid reflux)
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Sensation of a lump in the back of your throat

Causes of Comorbid IBS and GERD

There are no definitive answers as to why these two disorders co-existing. However, some people are starting to believe that it is not so much as an issue of a cause but rather one of the definitions. There are those who believe, for example, that IBS is but one aspect of the full spectrum of GERD.

Others have hypothesized that both IBS and GERD are triggered by a common digestive dysfunction. One such theory suggests that visceral hypersensitivity (the extreme sensitivity of internal organs) can trigger abnormal intestinal contractions (motility dysfunction) that can affect either the upper or lower GI tract depending on where the contractions are located.

If this were the case, it would suggest that IBS and GERD are one and the same disease.

Treatment

If you suffer from both IBS and GERD, it is important to work with your doctor to develop a comprehensive management plan to address both conditions. This may include a combination of diet, stress reduction, and prescription and non-prescription medications.

Part of the goal would be to identify any trigger foods that cause IBS and/or GERD. An elimination diet involving bland foods is often used to establish a baseline of which there are no symptoms. Gradually, over time, new foods are introduced to see which trigger IBS, GERD, or both.

Each condition would then be treated separately with medications. Antacids and acid-blocking medications are typically used for GERD. Antispasmodics and anti-anxiety medications are common, first-line treatments for IBS.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sperber AD, Dekel R. Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Co-morbid Gastrointestinal and Extra-gastrointestinal Functional Syndromes. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2010;16(2):113-9.  doi:10.5056/jnm.2010.16.2.113

  2. GERD. US National Library of Medicine.

  3. Symptoms & Causes of GER & GERD. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. US Department of Health and Human Services. November 2014.

  4. GERD (Chronic Acid Reflux). Cleveland Clinic. December 2019.

  5. De bortoli N, Tolone S, Frazzoni M, et al. Gastroesophageal reflux disease, functional dyspepsia and irritable bowel syndrome: common overlapping gastrointestinal disorders. Ann Gastroenterol. 2018;31(6):639-648.  doi:10.20524/aog.2018.0314

  6. Farzaei MH, Bahramsoltani R, Abdollahi M, Rahimi R. The Role of Visceral Hypersensitivity in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Pharmacological Targets and Novel Treatments. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2016;22(4):558-574.  doi:10.5056/jnm16001

  7. Chey WD. Elimination Diets for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Approaching the End of the Beginning. Am J Gastroenterol. 2019;114(2):201-203.  doi:10.14309/ajg.0000000000000099

  8. Feeling the Burn? Options for Acid Reflux. National Institutes of Health. November 2018.

Additional Reading
  • Gasiorowska, A.; Poh, C.; and Fass, R. "Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)—Is It One Disease or an Overlap of Two Disorders?" Digestive Diseases and Sciences. 2008; 54:1829-34.
  • Lee, S.; Lee, K.; Kim, S. et al. "Prevalence and risk factors for overlaps between gastroesophageal reflux disease, dyspepsia, and irritable bowel syndrome: a population-based study." Digestion. 2009; 79:196-201.
  • Sperber, A. and Dekel, R. "Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Co-morbid Gastrointestinal and Extra-gastrointestinal Functional Syndromes." J Neurogastrointen Mobil. 2010; 16(2):113-119; DOI: 10.5056/jnm.2010.16.2.13.