IBS and GERD: How to Manage it All

Do you struggle with both GERD and IBS? It may feel when they both strike your dealing with every letter of the alphabet, but this double manifestation is not uncommon. Luckily, simple lifestyle choices can help make managing these digestive disorders. So check out the dos and don’ts on how to keep the body happy from top to bottom.

GERD and IBS: 101

Channel your inner Miss Frizzle and jump on the Magic School Bus for an anatomy lesson worth learning. For starters, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is the backflow of stomach contents to the esophagus. It occurs due to the dysfunction or weakening of the dividing muscle, also known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The reflux results in both irritation and inflammation of the esophagus lining, which often causes chest pain. While approximately 10 percent of the population suffers from GERD, it’s a digestive disorder that is highly prevalent among people with IBS due to their similar pathophysiology.1 In fact, research shows that approximately 64 percent of people with IBS also experience GERD, with a higher proportion of cases found among women.2 Additional risk factors for GERD include obesity, pregnancy, and connective tissue disorders.3 In other words, you are not alone!

Do you have reflux and not know about it?

Much like everything else in life, acid reflux isn’t a black and white phenomenon. In fact, there is such a thing as "silent reflux." Yup, it’s doesn’t always get presented as heartburn or regurgitation. Despite the lack of gastric symptoms, there can still be a backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus, larynx, and throat. Silent reflux includes oral symptoms such as chronic cough, difficulty swallowing, postnasal drip, and the sensation of a lump in the throat.4 It can also present as halitosis, also known as bad breath. That’s right; the funky breath might not be because of your coronavirus mask. In fact, a research study found that approximately 22 percent of people with GERD had self-reported bad breath.5 If any of these symptoms feel all too familiar, consult with a physician and get a referral to a registered dietitian.

Lifestyle changes to help manage GERD

Managing GERD goes beyond simply avoiding specific foods. There may be other lifestyle habits that can aggravate symptoms. Check out these common causes of unwanted distress and practical ways to kick them to the curb!

Smoking

Your daily puffs can worsen your IBS AND GERD. Abstaining from smoking is obviously the best way to avoid this added aggravation.3 For those trying to quit but have yet to succeed, experiment with alternative solutions such as hypnosis, support groups, and exercise. Quitting is an individualized process. It’s important to find a method that’s right for you!

Fatty and fried foods

While deep-fried foods may sound appealing, they can cause unwanted gastrointestinal distress and be another culprit to GERD.3 So, skip the fried options and get baked "fried" options! Or recreate your favorite crisp with an air fryer. It uses minimal oil yet produces a similar texture to a deep fryer—ultimately warding off unwanted symptoms of both GERD and IBS.

Eating late at night

There are tons of reasons why people may eat late at night. For some, it may be cultural, while others may get preoccupied with work, children, or other obligations. But late-night meals can wreak havoc on your GERD.3 Ideally, the solution would be to eat earlier, but that may not always be feasible. In that case, have a pre-dinner snack to minimize the size of your late-night meal to avoid triggering GERD symptoms. Or prep meals or ingredients ahead of time to cut down on the cooking time that may be pushing your dinner later than desired.

Laying down after eating

Does eating give you a bad case of the JAMS, also known as "Just Ate, Must Sleep?" Unfortunately, heading straight to the couch or bed right after a meal can aggravate your GERD. It can overwhelm a weakened sphincter—the muscle responsible for keeping contents in the stomach and out of the esophagus.6 So, give your sphincter a helping hand by staying upright after meals. Try going for a walk. It can help stimulate digestion and keep GERD under control.

Avoid tight-fitting clothes

That’s right! The extra tight clothes can put some serious pressure on your stomach, ultimately pushing food up your lower esophageal sphincter and causing acid reflux.7 So, skip the girdles – AKA extra tight yoga pants, corsets, overly tight belts, or “waist cinchers” to help minimize reflux symptoms. By embracing a looser fit, you can help kick your GERD to the curb.

Medications. Some medications can worsen heartburn or irritate the esophagus. Known irritants to GERD include iron or potassium supplements, ibuprofen, aspirin, statins, sedatives, quinidine, and more.8 Consult with a physician or registered dietitian to see if your medications are worsening or causing your GERD.

Skip coffee and alcohol

I know. This one is a doozy. Although many adore their beloved morning brew or dinner cocktail, the consequences seemingly outweigh their benefits.3 While saying bye-bye to these beverages can significantly improve symptoms of GERD and IBS-D, it may not be the only way. For the die-hard coffee fans, experiment with low acid brews to get your fix without a hitch. If a cocktail is what you are craving, opt for whisky or gin, which produce less gastric acid secretions than other spirits.9 However, the best solution is still to minimize intake for those experiencing GERD symptoms or wanting to live a healthier lifestyle.

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