Digestive Problems FAQs

Some health problems are hard to digest: gallstones, peptic ulcers, constipation, heartburn and flatulence.

Heartburn

What is it?

Heartburn or Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD) is that burning sensation in your throat which can happen after eating a particularly fatty or heavy meal such as an Indian takeway or a burger. The burning is caused by acid which normally rests in your stomach coming up into your throat. The reason we don't have a burning sensation in our stomachs is because it's walls are specially designed to withstand the acid but the walls in our throats are not.

What are the symptoms?
  • Heartburn

  • Regurgitation of acid into your throat and mouth

  • Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)

What should I do?

You can start by helping yourself. By losing weight (if you are overweight), quitting smoking, eating smaller more frequent meals, being aware of 'triggers' (such as coffee or alcohol) and by having an extra pillow so you're sat more upright when sleeping you can greatly help reduce the effects of heartburn.

What are the treatments?

If all the above tips haven't helped your GP may offer you medication. There are several different types of medication;

  • Antacids - these help to relieve the effects of heartburn by neutralising stomach acid
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors - these work by reducing the amount of acid your stomach produces
  • H2 Antagonists - Also help to reduce the amount of stomach acid that is produced
  • Surgery - Very occassionally it may be necessary to operate on your stomach which will make it harder for acid to travel up into your throat.

As with any medication, these all carry the potential for side effects therefore it is best to try the lifestyle changes first.

Constipation

What is it?

It is a very common condition that affects almost everyone at one time or another. It is whereby it is hard to go for a poo.

What are the symptoms?

Pretty much as above. What determines constipation to one person may be completely different to another. For example some men may normally go for a number two once every two or three days whereas others may go two or three times a day. It really depends on what is normal for you. When you're constipated stools are often small and hard and you may have to strain to pass them.

Other symptoms of constipation may include;

  • Feel unable to completely empty your bowel
  • Stomach aches and cramps
  • Feeling bloated
  • Feeling sick
  • Loss of appetite
What should I do?

Let's start simple. By increasing your intake of fibre you can in most cases treat constipation. Fibre is found in bran-based cereals and many fruits and vegetables. Ensuring you are well hydrated and take regular exercise can also help.

What are the treatments?

If you're still finding it hard to pass stools then your GP may offer you laxatives. They are numerous different types that work in different ways. One of the most effective are stimulant laxatives. They work incredibly well at loosening stools but if used for long periods then their affect can wear off leaving you more constipated than before.

Excessive Farting (Flatulence)

What is it?

Everyone farts. Everyone farts different amounts. It's a natural process. The average number of times is about 15 times a day. The reason we fart is because when we drink or eat we swallow a small amount of air. There are also foods that when digested produce gases in our digestive system that we then need to get rid of. The most infamous example is baked beans.

What are the symptoms?

Farting excessively. Like constipation this really depends on the individual. But when it becomes incovenient and starts consistently affecting your life in a negative way it may be time to seek treatment.

What should I do?

Some foods make us more prone to passing wind. These include;

  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Artichokes

By avoiding these you can help to alleviate excessive wind. Chewing food slowly, quitting smoking and eating a diet of easy to digest foods such as rice, potatoes and citrus fruits can also help.

What are the treatments?

Still having trouble passing wind? Then you can buy charcoal tablets over the counter at your local pharmacy. These help by absorbing the excessive wind in your digestive tract.

Gallstones

What are they?

First a quick anatomy lesson, our gall bladders sit just below our liver and store bile. Bile is essential as it allows us to digest fats which we need for many bodily processes. Gallstones form in the gall bladder and are most often made of cholesterol. Most people who have them don't know they are there as it's only rarely that they cause pain.

What are the symptoms?

Gallstones only causes pain if they get trapped in a duct blocking bile from entering the digestive tract. The main symptom is constant pain located centrally just under your ribs or between your ribs and your belly button. It can sometimes be accompanied by;

  • a high temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or above
  • more persistent pain
  • a rapid heartbeat
  • yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
What should I do?

You should contact your GP if you think you have gallstones as they will be able to tell what the most appropriate next steps are.

What are the treatments?

The treatments range from medication (ursodeoxycholic acid) to surgery. It really depends on what type of gallstones you have and how serious the situation is.

Peptic Ulcers

See our FAQs on Peptic Ulcers

 

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Date published 07/04/14
Date of last review 07/04/14
Date of next review 07/04/17

References

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