Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) comes with a wide range of symptoms and one of them is heartburn.
While heartburn is not a classic IBS symptom, up to half of all IBS patients can experience it according to some estimates.
This is thought to occur from a functional dysregulation of the intestinal muscles, which allow acid to reflux back into the esophagus.
If you have IBS and suffer from heartburn, this article will help you understand what heartburn is, what Gaviscon is, whether it will help you with IBS, and what other steps you can take to improve your symptoms.
Let’s get started!
What is heartburn?
Heartburn is formally known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Normally, the stomach is full of acid, which helps break down food. The stomach lining is adapted to acidic conditions, which is why you don’t experience stomach pain from acid under normal conditions.
The lining of the esophagus, however, is not made to handle acid. It’s normally protected from stomach acid by a ring of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
If the LES stops working for some reason, stomach acid can enter the esophagus. And since the esophageal lining is not designed to handle acid, you experience chest pain and abdominal discomfort when it’s exposed to stomach acid.
There are many known risk factors for heartburn, including:
- Caffeine consumption
And since many IBS patients experience GERD, IBS can be considered a risk factor for heartburn. However, the relationship between the two conditions is incompletely understood for now.
If you suffer from IBS and also have one of the risk factors above, you’re at high risk for heartburn. And one of the treatments for heartburn is Gaviscon, so let’s discuss that now.
What is Gaviscon?
Gaviscon is an antacid, which means it counters the effect of stomach acid and reduces the symptoms of heartburn.
It comes in both as a tablet and syrup. The syrup is thought to treat heartburn better than the tablets.
The active ingredients in Gaviscon are aluminum and magnesium compounds, which are also responsible for some of its side effects as we’ll discuss later.
Can you use Gaviscon for IBS?
Since heartburn is not a classic IBS symptom, antacids like Gaviscon are not regularly used in its treatment unless patients also develop GERD.
Even if you do develop heartburn, antacids like Gaviscon provide only temporary relief in mild cases. Once the antacid washes out of the system, heartburn reappears.
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are a class of drugs that are the preferred treatment for GERD. They work by binding and inhibiting the acid-producing pump in the stomach. As acid production falls, the symptoms of IBS improve.
PPIs are better at treating heartburn than antacids because they inhibit acid production for longer periods. And since IBS and GERD are long-term conditions, PPIs offer a more permanent solution to heartburn compared to antacids.
What are the side effects of Gaviscon?
Before you take Gaviscon, there are certain side effects that you should know about, especially in the context of IBS.
The magnesium component of Gaviscon can lead to diarrhea, which can make your IBS worse if you have the diarrhea-predominant form of it. On the other hand, the aluminum component can cause constipation, which can worsen the constipation-predominant form of IBS.
Overall, the effects of magnesium and aluminum cancel each other out but you can expect mild diarrhea from the drug.
Other side effects of Gaviscon include:
- Low phosphate levels, which cause weakness, fatigue, and loss of appetite
- Allergic reaction, which is very rare but may be life threatening. Symptoms include itching, difficulty breathing, and swelling around the face
Since Gaviscon alters the pH level of the stomach, it also has a wide range of drug interactions. It can prevent the absorption of the following drugs:
- Tetracycline antibiotics
- Digoxin, which is used to treat abnormal heart rhythms and heart failure
- Iron supplements
- Fluoroquinolones, which are antibiotics
If you take any of these drugs, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor before starting Gaviscon.
What other steps can you take for heartburn?
We’ve discussed how antacids like Gaviscon are a temporary solution for heartburn, especially when it occurs due to a long-term condition like IBS.
To treat heartburn due to IBS, consulting a doctor who is experienced in treating IBS should be the first step.
While several medications can be used to treat IBS (and the heartburn that results from it), lifestyle and dietary changes are usually the preferred treatment for most patients.
And since IBS and GERD have many food triggers in common, dietary changes could be especially helpful in treating both the conditions. Foods you want to avoid include:
- Fizzy drinks
- Spicy food
- Greasy items
- Ketchup, pizza sauce, and other tomato-based items
- FODMAP-containing foods
FODMAPs are sugars that are difficult to break down. They’re thought to play an important role in causing IBS symptoms, which is why a low-FODMAP diet is known to be very effective for the condition.
FODMAP Digestive Enzymes are another good way to improve your tolerance to FODMAP-containing foods and reduce IBS symptoms at the same time.
What are other causes of heartburn?
You should know that there are many other causes of heartburn other than GERD, and it’s important to rule them out.
One important cause is an H.pylori infection, which is a bacterium thought to be present in a large number of people worldwide. H.pylori can lead to ulcer formation in the stomach and the small intestine, which can cause heartburn.
Heartburn from H.pylori is unlikely to respond to temporary treatments like Gaviscon. It will only improve once the bacteria are eradicated using antibiotics.
Other causes of heartburn include:
- Esophageal ulcers
- Crohn’s disease
- Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, which leads to increased stomach acid production
- Functional heartburn
- Rumination syndrome
- Medication adverse effect
Many more causes exist, so it’s important to seek medical attention and get the cause of your heartburn diagnosed through a comprehensive workup.
Medically Reviewed by Onikepe Adegbola, MD PhD