Diarrhea and other digestive problems are no fun, especially for people who
suffer from them often.
Such problems can be the result of bacteria in food, infection, stress,
certain medications, or chronic medical conditions such as colitis, Crohn’s
disease, and IBS. But no matter the cause, anyone who has frequent digestive
problems faces daily challenges and potential embarrassments.
By Janis Graham
Stuffing? Check. Stiff drinks? Check. Stress? Check. 'Tis the season -- for
stomachaches. "The holidays create a perfect storm for stomach problems because
of all the eating, traveling, and partying," says Roger D. Mitty, M.D., chief
of gastroenterology at Caritas St. Elizabeth's Medical Center in Boston. And
women are especially vulnerable, since some gastrointestinal ills occur up to
six times more often in women than in men. What's more, a recent survey found
Do you schedule your activities around your bathroom breaks? Do you turn
down invitations and avoid activities in public because you fear having an
accident? If that sounds like you, rest assured you’re not alone.
Your doctor can suggest dietary guidelines and may prescribe medication to
improve your digestive dilemma. But between checkups, you can take steps that
will help you get through each day in greater comfort and ease. These 10 steps
– from reducing stress to finding portable products for digestive emergencies –
will help you cope better in everyday life. Here are some lifestyle tips from
the digestion experts:
1. Master Your Digestion Treatment Plan
Your doctor will determine the reasons for your digestive problems and will
prescribe a treatment plan. This may involve taking medication, avoiding
certain foods, and adopting some new habits. It may take a while for you to
absorb all of this information. Try organizing your notes in a file folder or
notebook, along with any instructions and resource materials from your doctor.
Review the information regularly and jot down questions you want to ask your
2. Know Your Digestive Triggers
Many things can trigger digestive upsets; these triggers vary from person to
person. Try to pinpoint your own triggers by asking yourself these
questions:What foods, beverages, and eating patterns seem to upset your
digestive tract? Coffee, dairy products, and carbonated drinks, for example,
may trigger gas or diarrhea.
Which medications (prescription and over-the-counter) cause your digestive
problems to flare up? Which medications help? Keep a record of how specific
medications seem to affect you, and be sure to discuss them with your
Do certain events and situations seem to trigger your digestive problems?
Does travel make you unravel? Do menstrual hormones wreak havoc with your
digestion? If you suspect a connection, plan so you can anticipate, avoid, or
at least prepare for such tricky situations.
To help you make these connections, keep a journal of what you eat and
drink, what medicines and supplements you take, and daily events. In time, you
may see a correlation between one or more of these factors and episodes of
3. A Balanced Diet Keeps Digestion on Track
Eating right can help prevent digestive problems or soothe your system when
problems flare up. Follow your doctor’s instructions on what to eat and what to
avoid. Pay attention to portion sizes, as well as how often and how quickly you
What to eat depends partly on the specific cause of your digestive problems
as well as what foods you’re sensitive to. Here are some general guidelines to
keep in mind:
Gradually add more fiber to your diet. Fiber-rich foods add bulk to your
stools, which helps regulate your digestion. Increase your fiber intake
gradually to prevent bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
Eat several small meals throughout the day to prevent the sudden bowel
contractions that large meals can cause.