IBS and GERD Similarities and Treatments

If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), you will need to use dietary measures, and possibly medication, to manage the symptoms of both conditions.

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Studies suggest that between 25 to 32% of people with IBS will experience both disorders. Because IBS and GERD share many of the same characteristics, as many as 81% will experience an overlap of symptoms. This can sometimes lead to a delay in the diagnosis of the co-existing (comorbid) condition and a delay in starting the right treatment.

Understanding more about this link and overlap can help you develop a strategy for managing your range of symptoms if you have 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:

  • Heartburn (a burning sensation in the chest), sometimes spreading to the throat or accompanied by a bitter taste in the mouth
  • Acid reflux (regurgitation of food or liquid)
  • Chest pain
  • Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Hoarse voice
  • Sensation of a lump in the back of your throat

Causes of Comorbid IBS and GERD

There are no definitive answers that explain why these two disorders often co-exist.

Sometimes IBS and GERD are triggered by the same underlying digestive dysfunction. For example, visceral hypersensitivity (extreme sensitivity of internal organs) can trigger motility dysfunction (abnormal intestinal contractions) of the upper and/or lower GI tract.

And sometimes IBS is one aspect of the full spectrum of GERD.

Treatment

If you suffer from both IBS and GERD, it is important to work with your doctor to develop a comprehensive plan to manage 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 foods that trigger your IBS and/or GERD. An elimination diet is often used to help with this process. Gradually, over time, new foods are introduced to see which trigger IBS, GERD, or both.

And if necessary, each condition would be treated with separate medications. Antacids and acid-blocking medications are typically used for GERD. Antispasmodics and anti-anxiety medications are common, first-line treatments for IBS.

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Article Sources
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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.