If you’ve ever felt like your digestive system was trying to tell you something, you’re probably right. Our tummies talk to us in a language of their own. And if we don’t listen they can become increasingly persistent.
According to the NHS, 40% of people in the UK are suffering from at least one digestive condition at any one time. While most are not an indication of anything serious, there are certain things that should not be ignored.
Thankfully the most common conditions normally go away on their own or are easily and effectively treated with medication and lifestyle changes.
Bloating and stomach cramps
If your abdomen is frequently bloated (distended) or you have stomach cramps, it could be an indicator that you have IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Bloating is normally caused by trapped wind, which can be both uncomfortable and embarrassing, distending the abdomen sometimes by as much as several inches.
While stomach cramps are painful, they are rarely an indicator of anything serious. You might want to try and over the counter medication which contain oil of peppermint to soothe the muscles in the bowel wall to relieve the painful spasms.
Occasional bouts of diarrhoea are not uncommon. They are normally caused by something like a virus, a bacterial infection, stress, or even drinking too much alcohol. The condition can be managed with over the counter medicines, by drinking plenty of fluids and by replacing lost salts and sugar from your body.
However, if you’re getting diarrhoea frequently it needs to be investigated as it could be an indication of something more serious, like Coeliac Disease (an intolerance to gluten). If you have recurrent diarrhoea, it’s a good idea to get it checked out by your doctor.
Going to the loo less than every three days is classified as constipation by doctors. It is a common condition and is often caused by dehydration or too little fibre in the diet.
Drinking more water, upping your fruit and veg intake and exercising regularly normally addresses the problem. If it persists, a laxative will normally help, although you shouldn’t take these for extended periods.
Heartburn or indigestion is caused by acid from the stomach being pushed into the oesophagus, causing a burning pain. If the muscle that sits between the stomach and the oesophagus is not working effectively it can allow acid to flow upwards.
This muscle naturally weakens as we age and it also performs less effectively when we lie down, if we are overweight or if we eat a lot of fatty foods. Indigestion is uncomfortable but can normally be treated with over the counter medicines – an antacid to neutralise stomach acid or an acid blocker to reduce the production of stomach acid.
There is an increased risk of cancer if you regularly sleep with heartburn to talk to your doctor if it becomes a recurrent problem.
Around half of the population will suffer from piles at some point in their lives. Piles are enlarged blood vessels in and around your bottom that can cause discomfort and blood when you go for a poo. The condition is common during pregnancy. Piles can also be caused by straining to poo, constipation due to a diet that is too low in fibre, sitting on the toilet for too long and certain types of exercise, including lifting heavy weights.
It is a good idea to visit your doctor to get your symptoms checked, as blood in your poo can also be an indicator of other, more serious conditions. If your doctor confirms it is piles, you can use creams or suppositories to calm the soreness, relieve itching and reduce swelling.
While many of us find farting funny, excess wind is no joke for the people who suffer from it. It is generally caused by diet, with intestinal bacteria creating gas during the digestive process.
Certain foods are more likely to produce gas than others, such as beans, pulses and brassicas, so normally, simple changes in diet are enough to alleviate the problem. Notice which foods affect you in this way and avoid them if you can.
If you have a problem with burping, you may be swallowing too much air when you eat. Eating more slowly and chewing your food thoroughly should help.
Nausea (feeling sick) can be caused by a range of different conditions including: migraine; stress; fear; and motion sickness. Most of the time, nauseous feelings pass by themselves but you should see your doctor immediately if:
- you are unable to keep fluids down due to repeated vomiting
- you start to show signs of severe dehydration (confusion, rapid heartbeat, sunken eyes)
By learning to listen to our tummies and respond to what they are telling us, we will feel happier, healthier and more comfortable.