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IBS and GERD Overlap

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Updated June 05, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

IBS and GERD Overlap
Photo: Greg Ceo/Getty Images

In one of those unfortunate twists of fate, individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may find themselves having to deal with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) at the same time. Understanding why this might be happening to you can help you develop a more successful management plan for dealing with all of your symptoms.

What Is GERD?

GERD is a condition in which the sphincter at the bottom of the esophagus does not work properly, thus allowing the contents of the stomach to back up into the esophagus. The primary symptom of GERD is a burning sensation in the chest, commonly known as heartburn.

How Prevalent Is the Overlap Between GERD and IBS?

If you are experiencing GERD symptoms along with your IBS, you are not alone. Some estimates of the comorbidity of the two disorders are quite high, with 79% of IBS patients reporting symptoms of GERD and 71% of GERD patients reporting symptoms of IBS. Note that these high numbers refer to symptoms, not confirmed diagnoses. In studies in which the diagnosis of GERD was confirmed, percentages of GERD patients also suffering from IBS ranged from 24% to 35%.

Research also indicates that having one of the two diagnoses raises one's risk of having the other. In addition, patients who experience higher levels of anxiety are more likely to have both conditions.

Why Do GERD and IBS Often Occur Together?

There are no definitive answers as to why these two disorders frequently overlap. One theory suggests that any IBS symptoms experienced are part of the full spectrum of GERD. Another possibility is that there is some underlying digestive dysfunction, involving visceral hypersensitivity and motility, that results in symptoms in both the upper and lower GI tract.

What This Means For You

If you suffer from both IBS and GERD, it is important to work closely with your doctor to develop a comprehensive management plan. Research suggests that when GERD is treated effectively, patients are more likely to experience improved quality of life and an improvement in their IBS symptoms.

For comprehensive GERD information, visit Sharon Gillson's About.com Heartburn/GERD site.

Sources:

De Vries, D., Van Herwaarden. M., Baron A., Smout A., & Samsom M. "Concomitant functional dyspepsia and irritable bowel syndrome decrease health-related quality of life in gastroesophageal reflux disease." Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology 2007 42:951-956.

Gasiorowska, A., Poh, C., & 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 54:1829-1834.

Lee, S., Lee, K., Kim, S. & Cho, S. Prevalence and risk factors for overlaps between gastroesophageal reflux disease, dyspepsia, and irritable bowel syndrome: a population-based study. Digestion 2009 79:196-201.

Ruigomez, A., et.al. "Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in Primary Care: Is There a Link?" Digestive Diseases and Sciences 2009 54:1079-1086.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed physician. It is essential that you discuss with your doctor any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.

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