People with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may often experience constipation. Researchers are still investigating how the two conditions may be related. In some cases, treating constipation may help clear symptoms of GERD.
Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux, occurs when contents from the stomach move back up into the esophagus, or the food pipe. Most people experience infrequent acid reflux, though some may not experience any symptoms.
GERD is a chronic, severe form of acid reflux. It can cause mild or moderate symptoms and may lead to complications over time. Experts estimate that around 20% of people in the United States are living with GERD.
Research suggests chronic constipation occurs in about 29% of people with GERD. In some cases, the condition may have links to issues with how food moves through the digestive system. In other cases, constipation may have associations with medications people use to treat GERD.
This article discusses the link between acid reflux and constipation, tips for managing constipation, and treatments for acid reflux. It also explores when someone should speak with a doctor.
Is There A Link Between The Conditions?
Several studies suggest there may be a link between GERD and constipation. Some note that constipation may be the underlying cause of GERD and that successfully treating constipation may help clear symptoms of GERD. Other studies suggest certain medications for GERD may contribute to constipation.
According to a 2022 study that researchers conducted in Japan, the link between constipation and acid reflux or GERD may have links to the medications people use to treat the condition. Common medications that doctors recommend for GERD are proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).
The researchers found that 32.9% of PPI users with GERD also took medications to treat constipation. Additionally, they found that 24.4% of people taking potassium ion-competitive acid blockers for GERD also took medications to treat constipation.
A 2015 study noted that GERD occurs along with other gastrointestinal motility disorders, which affect the movement of food and waste through the digestive tract. One example of this disorder is functional constipation. The study authors suggested that treating constipation may also help clear GERD symptoms, although they did not test this hypothesis.
Another study from 2017 also noted that GERD is a common issue among children with frequent constipation. The authors found that treating constipation in the children also helped improve their GERD symptoms.
However, the relationship between the two conditions is unclear, so further research is necessary.
Tips For Managing Constipation
Treating constipation can help relieve symptoms relating to the condition and may also help alleviate symptoms associated with GERD. Treatments often consist of a combination of lifestyle changes and medications and may include:
- drinking more water and other sugar-free and nonalcoholic liquids
- eating more foods with high fiber content
- bowel training, which involves attempting to have a bowel movement at the same time every day with the aim of having more regular movements
- regular exercise
- discussing medication or supplement changes with a doctor
- taking over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives
Before starting or stopping any medications, a person should discuss their concerns with a doctor, particularly if they take medications to treat another underlying condition. A doctor may also recommend additional treatments, which may include:
- surgical procedures
- biofeedback therapy to help train the muscles responsible for bowel movement
- prescription medications
Many lifestyle changes people use to treat constipation may also help prevent constipation. They include:
- regular exercise
- drinking plenty of water
- eating enough fiber
- attempting to have a bowel movement at the same time each day
Acid Reflux Treatment
Acid reflux and GERD treatments may involve lifestyle changes, medications, and other therapies.
A person may find that making the following changes to their daily routine may help provide relief from acid reflux:
- elevating the head during sleep
- eating meals at least 3 hours before going to bed
- quitting smoking, if applicable
- maintaining a moderate weight
When To Speak With A Doctor
A person should consult a doctor if they experience symptoms that could indicate a serious problem. Symptoms that a person should not ignore include:
- loss of appetite
- chest pain
- pain while swallowing or difficulty swallowing
- signs of bleeding in the digestive tract, such as bloody vomit or stool
- persistent vomiting
- unexplained weight loss
People may also speak with a doctor if current treatments for acid reflux and constipation are not helping to relieve their symptoms. A healthcare professional may be able to recommend a more effective treatment.
Research suggests that GERD and constipation often occur simultaneously. Some evidence suggests that treating constipation may also help relieve GERD symptoms. However, scientists are still investigating the exact relationship between the two conditions.
Treatments for both constipation and GERD often involve lifestyle changes, medications, and other therapies. People should talk with a doctor if their symptoms persist or they develop symptoms that could indicate a more serious problem.
- Acid reflux (GER & GERD) in adults. (n.d.).
- Baran, M., et al. (2017). The overlap of gastroesophageal reflux disease and functional constipation in children: The efficacy of constipation treatment [Abstract].
- Hosseini, M., et al. (2015). Psyllium seed may be effective in the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in patients with functional constipation.
- Ogasawara, N., et al. (2022). Overlap between constipation and gastroesophageal reflux disease in Japan: Results from an internet survey.
- Treatment for constipation. (2018).
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