The link between acid reflux and constipation
Acid reflux is also known as acid indigestion. It’s a common condition that affects almost everyone at some point. It’s also possible for acid reflux to occur in children and teens.
This condition develops when your lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the muscle that acts as a valve between your esophagus and stomach, relaxes or doesn’t close properly. This allows stomach contents like acidic digestive juices to back up into your esophagus. When acid reflux becomes frequent or chronic, it’s known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
To treat acid reflux or GERD, your doctor may prescribe home remedies, lifestyle changes, or medications. Some of those medications can contribute to other digestive problems, including constipation. Constipation means having hard, dry bowel movements, or going fewer than three times a week.
Your doctor will recommend lifestyle changes and home remedies as a first line of treatment for acid reflux or GERD.
If lifestyle changes and home remedies don’t relieve your acid reflux or GERD symptoms, your doctor may prescribe medications. For example, they may prescribe proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).
PPIs are effective in treating GERD, but constipation is a known side effect.
PPIs are often the preferred GERD treatment. They can heal the esophageal lining and treat GERD symptoms, but they can cause constipation.
There are a few ways to manage constipation caused by PPIs. These include:
Eating more fiber
Foods high in fiber do not usually contribute to reflux. They also can add bulk to your stool, making the stool easier to pass. It’s important to add fiber slowly to avoid side effects like gas and bloating.
Examples of high-fiber foods include:
- whole-grain breads
- fresh fruits
Drinking more water
Increase the amount of water you drink every day. If you don’t have fluid restrictions related to your health, drinking more water can work with fiber to make your stool easier to pass.
Exercise promotes intestinal movement, which helps your stool pass. Aim for about 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week, with a goal of 30 minutes per day at least five times per week. Try walking, swimming, or biking.
It’s always best to talk with your doctor before starting an exercise regimen.
Taking an OTC medication
There are many types of constipation medication that you can buy over the counter:
- Laxatives make stool easier to pass. Examples include senna (Fletchers Laxative) and polyethylene-glycol-3350 (GIALAX).
- Stool softeners soften hard stool. An example is docusate (Dulcolax).
- Fiber supplements add bulk to stool.
- Stimulant laxatives cause your intestines to contract and move more stool. Examples include sennosides (Senokot).
These medicines aren’t intended for you to take on a regular basis, but when you have constipation. If you have chronic constipation, discuss it with your doctor. They can determine the cause and prescribe the right treatment.
Some people may use probiotics such as Bifidobacterium or Lactobacillus. Limited research is available to support probiotics as an effective treatment for constipation.
In addition to some lifestyle changes and over-the-counter (OTC) medications, there are some additional changes you can make.
- Avoid tight-fitting clothing. Wearing tight clothes can actually squeeze acid upward, contributing to reflux. Wearing comfortable, loose-fitting clothes can help keep this from occurring.
- Sit up for at least three hours after you finish eating. This can help keep acid from refluxing.
- Sleep at a slight angle. Keep your upper body about 6 to 8 inches higher. Lifting your bed with blocks can help.
- Quit smoking. This will help reduce your symptoms. So can avoiding secondhand smoke.
- Avoid certain foods and drinks. This includes spicy or greasy foods, chocolate, alcohol, and beverages that contain caffeine. These can all make your acid reflux worse.
OTC medications to treat acid reflux include antacids, which help to neutralize excess stomach acid. Examples include:
- aluminum-hydroxide-magnesium-hydroxide-simethicone (Maalox)
- calcium carbonate (Tums)
- dihydroxyaluminum sodium (Rolaids)
Another medication type called H2 blockers reduces the amount of acid produced in the stomach. Examples of these medications include:
- cimetidine (Tagamet)
- famotidine (Pepcid)
- nizatidine (Axid)
Your doctor may prescribe medications for GERD that cause digestive problems, including constipation. Implementing a few lifestyle changes and OTC medications may help relieve this condition.
You can ease constipation by eating more fiber, staying hydrated, and exercising. You may also consider sitting up for at least three hours after eating, sleeping at an angle, and avoiding tight-fitting clothes. Quitting smoking is also effective, as is taking laxatives and stool softeners.
If lifestyle changes and OTC medications aren’t effective in treating your constipation, talk with your doctor. There could be another reason for chronic constipation. Your doctor will determine the underlying cause and prescribe an appropriate treatment.