The Link Between IBS, Acid Reflux And Antacids

by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP

Most of us think of irritable bowel syndrome in relation to our intestines. It’s useful to know that many women with a diagnosis of IBS also complain of symptoms in their upper GI tract: heartburn/acid reflux, nausea, and stomach pain. These upper GI symptoms are often related to the rate at which the stomach empties. If the gastric environment is out of balance, the stomach tries to squeeze out its partially digested contents from both ends as quickly as possible. This leads to a burning sensation that many of us self-medicate with antacids.

Unfortunately, using antacids will not get at the root cause of your upper GI symptoms, and might even make the problem worse. In my experience, acid reflux and chronic heartburn can actually be the result of too little acid in the stomach — not too much. Overuse of antacids will initially lend some relief only to end up aggravating the underlying condition. In addition, antacid use can lower the acidity of the stomach to such a degree that it loses its ability to protect us from bacterial infection. It is now widely recognized that bacterial infection can cause ulcers.

Of course, if you are currently taking a prescription medication for heartburn, like Nexium or Prilosec, do not stop taking it except with the advice of your primary care provider. If you’d like to seek an alternative (of which there are many), look for an alternative practitioner in your area.

At Women to Women, we have seen most cases of chronic heartburn resolve themselves when women pay more attention to their diet and provide their bodies with nutritional support. An elimination diet can help identify the foods that might be triggering your symptoms. Eliminate a suspicious food for a week and see if your symptoms subside without antacids. We also put all of our patients with acid reflux on a medical-grade multivitamin, which provides the nutritional supplementation necessary for balanced intestinal flora.