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Digestive Problems: 10 Tips for Daily Life

By Kristin Stanberry
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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.

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Milk may do a body good, but not if you’re one of 30 to 50 million people who suffers from lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance results from an inability to digest the natural sugar (lactose) found in milk and milk products. Lactose intolerance symptoms can include bloating, diarrhea, gas, and cramping. But there are ways to manage lactose intolerance while reaping the nutritional benefits of dairy products.

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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 doctor. 

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 doctor.
  • 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 digestive problems.

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 eat.

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.
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