Some people have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) at the same time. Having both conditions may be due to dysfunction in the digestive tract.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic condition that causes symptoms of acid reflux.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional gastrointestinal disorder that causes symptoms such as pain, constipation, or diarrhea.

Some people have both conditions.

This article looks at IBS and GERD, discussing whether there is a link between them. It explores triggers, foods to avoid, and treatments to help people manage symptoms.

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Research suggests a substantial overlap between IBS and GERD.

According to a 2015 nationwide study of 100,000 people, it is common for these conditions to overlap.

According to an older 2010 study of over 6,000 people, 63.6% of participants with IBS also had GERD.

However, there is a wide variation in study results.

A 2018 review indicates that overlap in IBS and GERD ranges from 3–79% in questionnaire-based studies.

One older review from 2012 suggests GERD-type symptoms occur four times more often in people with IBS than in those without the condition.

The 2018 review notes that the underlying reasons for the overlap between GERD and IBS remain unclear.

However, some researchers speculate that there may be a dysfunction in the smooth muscle lining the digestive tract in people with both conditions. This dysfunction may cause the stomach to retain food for longer, preventing it from emptying properly.

According to the review’s authors, functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) such as IBS may relate to gut-brain interactions. They also point out that some experts believe sleep issues and depression are risk factors that may explain the overlap between GERD and IBS.

Another 2023 review explains that for people with overlapping GERD and IBS, symptoms may include acid reflux, heartburn, abdominal pain, and discomfort.

The symptoms may be due to a lower pain threshold in the internal organs (visceral hypersensitivity) and gastrointestinal motility issues, which prevent food from properly moving through the digestive tract.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders (NIDDK), the factors that cause IBS may vary from person to person.

The following may play a role in causing IBS:

  • food intolerances or sensitivities
  • small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or a bacterial infection in the gut
  • mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and somatic symptom disorder
  • stressful or traumatic early life events
  • genetic susceptibility

The American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) advises that not eating enough fiber can trigger constipation. Eating more fiber may help decrease symptoms of IBS, but it is also essential to drink plenty of water.

According to the NIDDK and the ACG, the following foods may trigger IBS and GERD:

  • acidic foods such as tomatoes and citrus fruits
  • alcohol
  • spicy foods
  • high fat foods
  • coffee and other drinks or foods containing caffeine
  • wheat products
  • dairy products
  • foods that may cause gas, such as beans, broccoli, and cabbage
  • some fruits, such as bananas, apples, and apricots

A person should speak with their doctor or a registered dietitian to determine which foods they should avoid.

Doctors may recommend the following over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications for GERD:

In more severe cases, people may require surgery or other medical procedures to treat GERD.

The ACG advises that treatment for IBS depends on a person’s symptoms. Doctors may recommend the following medications:

  • peppermint oil preparations
  • laxatives for constipation
  • antidiarrheal drugs
  • antidepressants
  • antibiotics such as Rifaximin

In addition, the following lifestyle changes may help people manage their symptoms:

  • meeting with a psychologist or counselor
  • quitting smoking
  • elevating the head during sleep

If a person’s symptoms are not improving or worsening, they should speak with a doctor.

Additionally, if a person has new symptoms they are concerned about, they should speak with a medical professional.

People may also find it helpful to consult a registered dietitian to help them with dietary changes.

IBS and GERD can overlap, but experts do not know why this occurs.

It may be due to a dysfunction in the smooth muscles in the gut, which can cause a delay in emptying the stomach.

Doctors may recommend medications or dietary and lifestyle changes to help people manage their symptoms.

People should consider speaking with a doctor or registered dietitian if they are concerned about their symptoms or need help managing their diet.