Can Acid Reflux Cause Diarrhea?

Does acid reflux cause diarrhea?

Most adults have experienced diarrhea at some point in their life, and so as most probably know, it can put a major strain on personal and professional life. Constant trips to the bathroom, upset stomach, dehydration, and abdominal pain can all result from short-term episodes. However, the real threat begins as the condition lasts for more than just a day or two, and continues past the point that the body is deprived of the fluids and nutrients it needs to survive. Chronic diarrhea can be a major health risk.

While diarrhea is not the most common symptom of acid reflux disease, those wondering whether acid reflux can cause diarrhea should not rest easy so soon. A growing body of medical research shows that some of the same underlying causes that lead to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are also responsible for acid reflux. And while the connection is not yet fully understood, being aware of the potential link is in patients' best interest.

What is acid reflux and how does it work?

Everybody's stomach is filled with a pool of hydrochloric acid, a powerful solvent which is a major player in food digestion but can also damage living tissue. Luckily for us, our stomachs are lined with a thick mucus membrane which prevents the acid inside from causing damage to our body. Acid reflux disease occurs when the entryway to our stomach malfunctions, and allows the acid to spill out into our esophagus.

Acid reflux can be caused by a variety of common behaviors, which is why it is experienced by so many people. Eating large meals can increase the likelihood of experiencing acid reflux, especially if done habitually. The type of food plays a large role, with citrus, chocolate, mint, garlic, and especially fatty or spicy meals being the biggest culprits. Smoking and drinking alcohol are also contributing factors, as each can further erode the esophagus over extended use. Finally, pregnant women are known to experience the disease with greater frequency as well.

Those experiencing acid reflux disease with encounter symptoms such as heartburn, a sharp pain in the chest area caused by splashing acid, as well as partial regurgitation of food. Bloating, bloody or dark stools, nausea, and excessive burping are also common symptoms.

However, one questions still remains: can acid reflux cause diarrhea, and what is the connection between the two?

The connection with irritable bowel syndrome

IBS, one of the leading causes of diarrhea, is neither a true disease nor a psychological condition. Described as a “functional disorder”, it poses very real symptoms that do not have any clear or identifiable cause. Even though the causes are not apparent, doctors know that there is a strong connection between IBS and stress.

Doctors have also noticed that IBS occurs commonly with a particular type of acid reflux disease known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. The specific connection between the two is not yet known, although the coincidence of the two is believed to be caused by the same disease mechanism. Those who have experienced either GERD or IBS at some point in their lives carry a higher risk of getting the other.

Staying healthy

Maintaining digestive health is a tricky business that specialized nutritionists are paid well to manage for their patients. However, using some common sense as well staying mindful of what you eat can go a long way toward abating the effects of acid reflux and IBS alike. Choosing a diet that is high in fiber can help smooth out your entire digestive tract. Fruits and vegetables, especially those of the leafy green variety are always a good option, especially if you have a past history of digestive trouble. When looking to add more protein to your diet, stick with lean meats like fish or chicken breast. Cutting down on alcohol intake can also be a major help.

Finally, if you have a lactose intolerance, being aware of your dairy intake can be an easy solution. The symptoms associated with lactose intolerance are easy to confuse with those of IBS and acid reflux, and so getting a clear idea of which you are facing is the first step.

Last Reviewed:
June 14, 2017
Last Updated:
October 12, 2017
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