When your digestive system is out of whack, everything can feel harder to handle. If you’re not sure what to make of what you’re feeling, here are some signs you might have a problem with your digestive system.
Feeling bloated can be attributed to many things but can often be traced back to what we eat. Certain junk foods and processed foods can cause bloating, which means it’s time to switch to healthier foods. When you’re eating healthily, some bloating can be normal, notes Judi Adams, M.S., R.D.N., president of the Wheat Foods Council. “Bloating may be caused by gas, which is not a bad thing. Gas is produced by fermentable carbohydrates [for example, fibre], which is actually good for you,” she says.
Gas or flatulence
Having gas is usually normal but in some cases can indicate digestive upset. But, as Adams tells us, gas is usually caused by fermentable carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grains. “If you eat right, you’re going to have gas. We’d all be better off if ‘passing gas’ was more politically correct.”
Constipation can mean you are not getting enough fibre, which can hinder your digestive system. Adams suggests doubling your fibre intake from food, being more physically active and drinking lots of liquids. “Fibre can help prevent constipation and will improve your gut bacteria,” she says.
Try adding fibre-rich foods to your diet, such as legumes, vegetables, berries or wheat bran in the form of bars or cereals. We’re currently snacking on All-Bran cereals and bars for an easy, anytime fibre boost.
Discomfort after eating
Any distress or discomfort you experience in your upper abdomen after eating — within minutes or up to two hours afterward — is termed “dyspepsia” by gastroenterologists, explains Dr. David L. Carr-Locke, chief of the Division of Digestive Diseases, Mount Sinai Beth Israel. This might indicate digestive issues, and the range of possibilities as to what’s going on in your gut is wide. If symptoms persist, it’s a good idea to see your doctor.
Diarrhea can occur for numerous reasons, and they might not be diet related, says Adams, but rather a sign that you’re dealing with digestive problems. It can be caused by food poisoning or an allergy or food intolerance, but she warns that if it is persistent, then see your doctor.
You take antibiotics
There are times when you simply have to take antibiotics, but these can cause quite a bit of indigestion within your gut, explains Adams. Therefore, to help ensure your gut stays happy with good bacteria, she suggests eating high-fibre foods and avoiding antibiotics whenever possible.
Feeling like you have a general upset stomach could mean you have digestive problems that can have countless causes. “This can be caused by food allergies and intolerances, with a myriad of symptoms, such as stomach ulcers, heartburn, bloating, diarrhea, excessive gas, cramping or other intestinal pain and constipation,” affirms Adams. See your doctor if you are unsure of why you have an upset stomach.
That burning discomfort in the chest near the heart can be frustrating and also indicate digestive upset. Try changing your diet — add more high-fibre foods in the form of fresh, whole and unprocessed foods, avoid spicy foods and alcohol, and see if you notice changes. If you don’t, see your doctor.
Nausea can have many causes, and it could mean you have a digestive problem. “Nausea is often accompanied by other symptoms and findings that help determine the underlying cause, but nausea as the only symptom can be difficult to pin down,” affirms Carr-Locke. See your doctor to find out what could be behind your nausea.
Reflux occurs when the muscular mechanism between the esophagus and stomach fails, allowing stomach acid and other stomach contents to reflux into the lower esophagus or sometimes all the way up into the throat, explains Carr-Locke. “Although reflux occurs in all of us several times a day without being detected, persistent or frequent reflux causing symptoms or other problems is called gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD,” he says. Treatments include changes in lifestyle, such as reducing fat in the diet, changes in eating and drinking habits and weight loss.