When you think of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which part of your body comes to mind? If you’re like most people, it’s the intestines. But an IBS diagnosis isn’t quite so straightforward. And the “quick-fix” many women turn to could, in fact, be doing more damage than good.

Many women who have been diagnosed with 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 its partially digested contents out from both ends as quickly as possible. This leads to a burning sensation, and when that happens, 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 the clinic, I 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. I also recommend that all my patients with acid reflux take a medical-grade multivitamin, which provides the nutritional supplementation necessary for balanced intestinal flora.

With the right information about where symptoms are coming from, and the right support, you can find yourself free of upper GI symptoms without all the antacids!