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Avoiding digestive problems

A healthful lifestyle is often the key to treating or preventing digestive problems.

It all starts out as a simple piece of food—a carrot, a potato, a piece of bread. But thanks to your digestive system, the food you eat turns into fuel for your body.

For most people, digestion takes place without any problems. But there are many different problems that can affect how food moves through your body.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), common digestive problems include:

Constipation. This problem causes a person to have trouble passing stools. It happens more often to older people. Eating foods high in fiber and exercising can help relieve it.

Diarrhea. Bowel movements that are mostly liquid are often the result of infection or a foodborne illness. Treatment depends on the cause of the problem. Check with a doctor to see if you need medications to treat the problem causing diarrhea, or if it will pass in time. Over-the-counter products can provide relief. No matter what the cause, it's important to make sure you drink enough fluid to replace what you lose.

Heartburn. Smoking or eating spicy, rich or fried foods can cause this burning pain in the chest after meals. You can treat heartburn by changing your diet, stopping smoking or sleeping with the head of your bed raised.

Indigestion. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, heartburn, bloating or stomach pain after eating. Causes may include overeating, eating foods you're sensitive to, or other problems such as gallbladder disease or ulcers. Treatments for indigestion may include diet changes or treating the problem that causes it.

Gastritis. Too much stomach acid, infection, medication and alcohol can all cause this swelling of the stomach. How gastritis is treated depends on what caused it.

Lactose intolerance. This problem happens when your body can't digest milk or other dairy products properly. Symptoms of a lactose problem include cramps, gas, bloating and diarrhea after consuming a dairy product. You can treat lactose intolerance with medications to help with digestion of milk or by avoiding dairy products. If you avoid dairy products, talk to your doctor about making sure you get enough calcium from other sources.

Celiac disease. This disease is an immune reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, and is common in processed foods. The disease damages the intestines and interferes with the body's ability to absorb nutrients from food. People with celiac disease need to follow a gluten-free diet.

Digestive care

A healthful diet and lifestyle are the best ways to keep your digestive system in good working order, according to the NIDDK. These tips can help:

  • Eat lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, and grain products such as breads and cereals (but make sure to avoid gluten if you have celiac disease).
  • Take your time when eating.
  • Stay active.
  • Avoid drinking a lot of caffeine or alcohol.
  • Follow directions when taking prescription medicines.

Know when to see a doctor

You'll probably have some digestive problems in your life. While many of the problems will go away on their own, it's important to know when to see a doctor. The NIDDK advises seeking medical help if you have:

Sudden, severe pain that doesn't go away, keeps coming back, or happens along with shaking and chills.

Bloody vomit or frequent vomiting.

Bowel changes such as diarrhea or constipation that last more than three days.

Jaundice, a yellowing of your skin and eyes, or dark urine.

Trouble swallowing or loss of appetite or weight for no reason.

Reviewed 3/26/2021

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