IBS often accompanies chronic acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This may be related to poor muscle function of the intestinal tract.

GERD occurs when stomach acids back into the esophagus due to a poor-functioning lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is a band of muscle that acts as a valve between the esophagus and the stomach.

IBS occurs when the bowel muscles push food through the intestinal tract abnormally. If waste material moves too fast, it can cause diarrhea; if it moves too slowly, it can cause constipation.

Some experts suspect there may be an incoordination of the muscles that line the esophagus, stomach, and intestines, contributing to symptoms of both IBS and acid reflux.

Another observation is that people with both IBS and GERD report more sleep difficulties and more episodes of abdominal pain than people who have IBS or GERD alone.

However, IBS is a complicated condition and less well-understood than GERD. Experts believe a variety of individual, intestinal, and environmental factors contribute to IBS, making the relationship between GERD and IBS even more complicated.

Perhaps not surprisingly, acid reflux and IBS are often triggered by the same kinds of foods and beverages. This includes:

  • alcohol
  • caffeine
  • carbonation
  • chocolate
  • citrus fruits
  • fatty and fried foods
  • garlic and onions
  • spicy foods
  • tomato-based foods, such as pizza and spaghetti sauces
  • certain sugars like high fructose corn syrup and lactose
  • certain sugar alcohols like sorbitol and xylitol

If trigger foods include dairy products such as milk, cheese, or ice cream, the problem may be lactose intolerance, not IBS.

People who have cramping or bloating after only eating dairy products should stop eating these foods for two weeks to see if symptoms subside.

If symptoms subside after avoiding dairy, consult with a healthcare professional about the possibility of lactose intolerance.

If non-lactose foods aggravate your symptoms in addition to dairy, you are more likely to have IBS.

While medications may provide relief in many cases, the preferred treatment for most people experiencing both acid reflux and IBS is lifestyle and dietary modification.

In addition to avoiding certain foods, people with GERD or IBS may find relief by maintaining a moderate weight, quitting smoking, and learning stress-reduction techniques such as deep breathing, exercise, or yoga.

Certain medications may also help:

  • Antacids may be enough to relieve symptoms for people with occasional mild acid reflux.
  • Anti-gas medications like simethicone (Gas-X) can work for occasional gas, bloating, and indigestion.
  • Proton pump inhibitors, such as omeprazole, are often prescribed for chronic acid reflux.

If you have symptoms of GERD, IBS, or other intestinal distress, make an appointment with a healthcare professional for a thorough exam.

Depending on your symptoms, you will likely need evaluation and testing to determine your diagnosis and which treatment options are best for you.