Diarrhea and heartburn are two digestive symptoms. If a person has certain gastrointestinal disorders, they may be more likely to experience both heartburn and diarrhea than other people.

One cause of chronic heartburn is a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). And people who experience frequent diarrhea may have a condition called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS causes changes in bowel habits, including diarrhea.

Some links between GERD and IBS explain why a person may experience diarrhea and heartburn.

Read on to learn about the link between diarrhea and heartburn, symptoms, causes, treatment options, and more.

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IBS is considered a functional gastrointestinal disorder. Functional gastrointestinal disorders are chronic conditions affecting the digestive tract.

However, not all GERD is functional. In some cases, an underlying acid reflux abnormality may cause it. If testing does not find evidence of an abnormality, it is considered a functional disorder.

Functional gastrointestinal disorders are not caused by physical changes in the digestive tract. Instead, they involve alterations in how the brain and digestive system communicate. The gut of a person with a functional gastrointestinal disorder is more sensitive to changes compared with those of other people.

There may also be changes in the gut microbiome. The microbiome includes the colonies of microorganisms that live throughout the digestive tract.

About 1 in 3 people live with some kind of functional gastrointestinal disorder.

If someone has one condition, they are more likely to have another. People with IBS are 4 times as likely to also live with GERD.

Heartburn can feel like pain or burning in the chest. It occurs when stomach acid travels up into the esophagus. Some people get an acidic or bitter taste in the back of their throat. While some amount of reflux is normal, too much can cause problems.

Diarrhea is when a person has very loose or watery stools. They may also experience cramping and abdominal pain. Although different experts and researchers have varied definitions of diarrhea, most consider it to be loose or watery stools that occur a few times per day.

Learn more about the symptoms of diarrhea and heartburn.

Diarrhea has several potential causes. Foodborne illness or an acute illness may cause diarrhea.

However, it can also be chronic. Some causes of chronic diarrhea include:

  • inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • lactose intolerance or another food allergy or intolerance
  • a side effect of medication
  • IBS

IBS is a digestive condition that can cause abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and changes in bowel habits.

Heartburn can also be short term or chronic. Occasional heartburn can happen after eating a large meal or eating too close to bedtime. A doctor may diagnose GERD if a person has recurring heartburn.

One symptom does not necessarily cause the other. Diarrhea and heartburn can exist as separate symptoms with distinct causes. There may also be some overlap in these symptoms and the conditions that can cause them.

GERD is typically viewed as a condition affecting the upper digestive tract, and IBS affects the lower digestive tract. There is interest in how the two conditions may actually be caused by similar changes in the digestive tract.

A study from 2019 explored how the use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) as part of heartburn management may influence the development of IBS.

PPIs change the amount of acid produced in the stomach, helping manage heartburn. However, they change the stomach acidity, which can increase the risk of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). People with SIBO often experience IBS-type symptoms, including diarrhea.

The study showed that treating the SIBO improved IBS-like symptoms.

There are different treatments available for both diarrhea and heartburn. The treatment a person will use will depend on the frequency and severity of the symptoms.

A person may decide to wait it out for occasional heartburn or diarrhea. There are also medications to treat symptoms as needed.

If a person experiences symptoms more often, they may try:

  • dietary changes
  • stress management
  • medications

Medications used for heartburn include:

  • antacids
  • sucralfate
  • histamine-2 receptor agonists
  • PPIs

Some strategies that may help prevent both diarrhea and heartburn include:

  • eating on a regular schedule
  • eating frequent small meals instead of just a few larger meals
  • eating slowly and chewing food well
  • limiting caffeine intake from coffee, tea, energy drinks, and chocolate sources
  • avoiding or limiting spicy foods
  • avoiding or limiting high fat foods
  • finding ways to manage stress
  • avoiding restrictive or tight-fitting clothes
  • lying down after the last meal of the day with the head elevated

Learn more about treatment options for heartburn and diarrhea.

If lifestyle changes are not helping to manage diarrhea and heartburn, it is smart for a person to connect with their doctor.

There may be tests to find out more about what is causing the symptoms. This can provide more information about the best way to manage.

Diarrhea and heartburn are digestive symptoms that most people will experience at some point.

They can also be chronic. When heartburn occurs frequently, a person may be diagnosed with GERD. Ongoing diarrhea may be part of IBS.

GERD and IBS are both functional gastrointestinal disorders. A person with IBS is likelier to have GERD than someone without IBS.