What it might mean: Most likely, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which results when the sphincter between the esophagus and stomach malfunctions, allowing stomach acid to rise into the esophagus. Medications, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids and osteoporosis medications, can also be a trigger.
What to do: Avoid smoking, which irritates the GI tract, and limit alcohol and caffeine, which boost stomach-acid production. Lose excess pounds put pressure on the stomach, pushing up its contents. Ginger and chamomile tea soothe the upper digestive tract. If these or over-the-counter antacids don't quench the fire, you might benefit from a prescription proton pump inhibitor, such as omeprazole or pantoprazole, or an H2 blocker like ranitidine.
What it might mean: Fullness and tightness in the belly are often associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
What to do: Add fiber to your diet and practice stress management to quell the emotional upsets that contribute to IBS. Probiotics can sometimes be helpful. If symptoms don’t ease, ask your doctor about medications, which range from anti-spasmodics and antidepressants to IBS-specific drugs, such as linaclotide and lubiprostone.
What it might mean: If you're belching excessively, you may be swallowing air, a condition called aerophagia. Flatulence happens when bacteria in the gut ferments undigested food; certain foods are worse than others.
What to do: Avoid carbonated sodas and chewing gum if burping is bothering you. Chew foods slowly and eat small meals. If you experience excess gassiness, try limiting gas-producing foods like beans, fruits and other complex carbohydrates, as well as the artificial sweetener sorbitol, which can increase flatulence. Activated charcoal and probiotics can also help.
What it might mean: IBS is a possibility, especially if the constipation is frequent and you also experience abdominal discomfort, gas, cramping or bloating. Constipation is a side effect of some medications, such as narcotics and other pain killers, antidepressants and sedatives. Habitually ignoring nature's call to defecate doesn't help.
What to do: Make sure you are drinking enough water, and try a fiber supplement, such as psyllium seed (Metamucil). Some people respond to probiotics. For persistent problems, ask your doctor about using a stool softener or a mild laxative.
What it might mean: The body is reacting to something, such as a virus, a parasite or bacteria in contaminated foods. Chronic diarrhea could be a sign of celiac disease, IBS or a bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis, all of which require a doctor's attention.
What to do: Drink clear liquids, juices and broths. An electrolyte-containing beverage can help with hydration. Products containing kaolin and pectin (Kaopectate) or the over-the-counter medications loperamide (Imodium and others) or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) may also help. See your doctor if the diarrhea lasts for more than three days, if you spike a fever of higher than 101, or if you have severe abdominal pain.
Probiotics: Yes or No?
Have you considered adding probiotics—so-called "good" bacteria or yeast—to your diet to help with digestion, strengthen your immune system, or lose weight? There's mounting evidence that probiotics may help boost immunity and prevent and relieve certain gastrointestinal problems, including diarrhea associated with antibiotic use and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). There's little or no scientific evidence to back up claims that probiotics can help with some other conditions, including weight loss, urinary tract infections (UTIs), or depression.
If you choose to use a probiotic, talk to your doctor first about which species or strain of organism to use. There are hundreds of different combinations of probiotics. Some may be more helpful for certain conditions than others.
From our sister publication REMEDY's Healthy Living Fall 2013, Fall 2015