If you occasionally experience heartburn, gas or diarrhea after eating various foods, this is perfectly normal. Everybody experiences these at one time or another. If, on the other hand, this is happening frequently enough to disrupt your daily routine or even cause you to take days off work, you could have a valid gastrointestinal problem.
Millions of Americans and people in the most developed countries eat highly processed foods that can be detrimental to their digestive health. That alone can cause a great deal of discomfort including gas, bloating and other common digestive issues. Then there are the common frustrations of work and daily life, which is stressful for many. Stress forces the stomach to increase its production of digestive acids, causing indigestion.
Simple Steps to Avoid Indigestion
If you’re wondering whether or not you need medical attention for your digestive issues, be sure you have been taking simple steps to prevent it in the first place. Often, perfectly harmless but sometimes painful digestive symptoms cause panic unnecessarily. The digestive system needs a particular chemical balance to operate efficiently. It doesn’t take much to upset this balance, and an improper diet is sometimes not the problem.
Believe it or not, gas is a normal and natural part of the digestive process. You will either pass gas through your anus as gas or as a burp through your mouth. Most healthy individuals will probably pass gas in both of these ways 13 to 21 times every day! Gas is a byproduct of the breaking down of food as well as when you swallow air as you eat and drink. Some foods result in little gas production, while others increase it.
Finding the right balance can take individual effort because we are not all the same. There is a lot that can upset the chemical balance in your stomach, and being careful to pay close attention to what upsets your stomach is a big part of preventing unnecessary stomach upset.
There are some foods that are known to cause an upset stomach in most people, especially when they are eaten along with other types of foods. Foods to look out for include, but are not limited to:
- Milk and other dairy products
- Wheat (gluten)
If you change your lifestyle and/or diet for the better, chances of bloating and general indigestion should decrease. You can cut back on fatty foods, for starters. This is especially true if they contain hydrogenated fats that are known to cause indigestion. Sodas and other sugary beverages are also highly acidic and can cause digestive issues by themselves.
Smoking introduces the body to chemicals that can wreak havoc on your stomach. If you smoke, pay attention to how your stomach feels shortly afterward. The fluctuations in chemical activity in the bowels should make you feel uncomfortable. Quitting or cutting back on smoking will greatly reduce symptoms of general indigestion significantly.
Too much caffeine has been linked to digestive problems like heartburn, especially when coffee is the caffeinated beverage of choice. That’s because coffee increases the production of stomach acids associated with indigestion. Try cutting back on coffee or switching to black tea instead. Black tea can give you that extra boost without dramatically increasing stomach acid production the way coffee does.
If taking these measures still doesn’t improve your frequent indigestion, you need the help of gastrointestinal specialists like us. We understand the delicate chemistry of the gastrointestinal system and its functioning. We also know the difference between a common and harmless digestive issue and a sign of a more serious problem.
Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, barley and rye. When some people eat things containing gluten, they get very ill. Gluten sensitivity is the mildest form of this type of digestive disorder, and it’s quite common. Bloating, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headaches and fatigue are likely.
There is a strong link between digestive problems and depression or signs of it. This has to do with the delicate chemical balance mentioned previously. The brain itself depends on a finely tuned chemical balance to operate properly. When a chemical imbalance occurs in the brain, this can lead to increased stress, anxiety, fear or even happiness and excitement.
This is one of the reasons people who are intolerant to gluten often have higher levels of anxiety or might fall victim to depression. While research is still being conducted to understand the connection between the digestive system and mental health, there is already strong evidence to support that.
Signs of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Some gastrointestinal issues might bark louder than they bite. Such is the case with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which causes a lot of discomfort but does not harm the intestines at all. IBS affects the large intestine, causing the muscular contractions to become irregular and induce cramping, bloating and a drastic change in bowel movement habits.
There might be other reasons for the discomfort of IBS, though. It’s not quite clear what causes it, although there are many indications. Generally, IBS is characterized by symptoms that just won’t go away with time and seem to get worse. These symptoms include bloating, nausea, diarrhea, stomach pain and passing excessive amounts of gas.
Inflammation of the intestines is the cause of IBS for many people. Although the damage to the stomach lining is less severe, it’s still enough to cause chronic digestive discomfort.
Fluctuations in microflora levels in the gut could also be the issue causing IBS symptoms. Human microflora is bacteria that are found in various parts of the body, including the intestines. Normally, these are good bacteria that are needed for proper digestion and other bodily functions. When there are too many in number, digestive processes are corrupted, leading to common IBS symptoms.
Other times, a severe gastrointestinal infection might cause irritable bowel syndrome. When a person has had a viral or bacterial infection, the bacterial count in the intestines can explode. Usually, diarrhea is a symptom of these kinds of infections that won’t go away. This creates an opportunity for the bacteria to multiply further, causing symptoms of IBS or making them worse.
There are medications available for the treatment of IBS. They are most effective when a change in lifestyle is implemented. These lifestyle changes can be difficult, and counseling might be necessary to help with this.
Signs of Acid Reflux Disease
The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a muscle just before the stomach that opens and contracts to let food in when you eat a meal. It normally closes when food passes through it, but a person with acid reflux disease has a malfunctioning LES. This means that it might stay open even when food has passed through, and there is no set time as to when it might close again.
This causes a back-up of stomach acids used for breaking down foods. These are more powerful acids than most people realize because they can deteriorate the lining of the esophagus enough to do extreme damage. Burning in the chest is also a common symptom that is known as heartburn. This disorder is also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
It’s true that mild heartburn can occur somewhat regularly in normal cases. Spicy foods and other foods that increase the production of stomach acids can make it worse. However, if you are experiencing severe heartburn more than twice a week, you probably have a case of acid reflux disease or GERD. Other telltale signs of GERD include:
- Backing up of stomach acid, leaving a sour or bitter taste in your mouth or throat
- Dark or bloody stool
- Constant burping
- Unexplained weight loss
- Hiccups that don’t stop
- Feeling like food is stuck in your throat
When our patients come into our clinic with complaints that indicate that they have acid reflux disease, that isn’t always the case. As with any other kind of illness, disorder or disease that affects the gastrointestinal system, it might take some tests to come to a positive diagnosis.
Normal and Abnormal Constipation
From time to time, it’s normal to have a hard time with bowel movements. There are foods we might not be used to eating that can cause a temporary stagnation in normal digestive processes. However, if you are experiencing problems with bowel movements more than two or three days a week or are noticing that you have a hard or dry stool, clinical constipation might be the problem.
Constipation slows you down, making you feel more tired than you would normally feel. You might experience a noticeably decreased appetite as well as an inability to have a successful bowel movement. Sometimes, bloating and abdominal pain is a result of severe constipation.
The kind of treatment we might use for constipation depends on the cause and the severity of it. There can be so many causes of constipation, and it usually takes different tests and exams to find the root cause. As with most gastrointestinal illnesses and conditions, a change in lifestyle and diet will almost always improve symptoms, although there are medications that we might prescribe.
Talk to an Expert
If you have been experiencing gastrointestinal problems for a significant amount of time, you need to know why you have them. Your symptoms might be an indication of a very serious problem that needs treatment immediately.
When you choose Medical Transformation Center for your digestive health needs, a consultation is the first step of the process. Whatever is causing your gastrointestinal problems, we most likely have the solution waiting for you. Contact us today to book an appointment at our office in Louisville, KY!