Gut Feelings

What is your ailing abdomen trying to tell you?

Digestive issues are uncomfortable to experience and to discuss. "It's common for most people to experience digestive problems from time to time," says Jeffrey Schwartz, MD, division head of Gastroenterology at University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus. "But about 10 to 20 percent of the population has serious symptoms."

Here is a list of common digestive issues:


What it could mean: Constipation has many causes, including not eating enough fiber, lack of exercise, certain medications, pregnancy, dehydration, and certain diseases and conditions, such as stroke.

What you should do: "To have regular bowel movements, it's important to exercise regularly, drink enough water and eat a diet with enough fiber," Dr. Schwartz says. Gradually incorporate more fiber into your diet by eating whole grains, fruits and veggies, and amp up the exercise.

Ask your doctor if constipation could be a side effect of medications you are taking. If you discover blood in your stool, see a physician immediately.

Gas and Bloating

What it could mean: Gas often results from eating certain foods, but smoking, stress, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease (a gluten intolerance), lactose intolerance and infection are also contributors.

What you should do: Talk with your physician to rule out lactose intolerance, food sensitivities or celiac disease. Reduce or eliminate foods that cause excess gas, such as beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, soda, cauliflower and gum.


What it could mean: Diarrhea is frequently associated with stomach viruses or bacterial infections. Food intolerances, certain medications, intestinal diseases and parasites can also cause diarrhea. Certain foods and drinks, such as alcohol, caffeine and dairy products, and even stress, produce diarrhea in some people.

What you should do: If you have loose bowel movements for longer than two days, or if you have pain, fever or blood in your stool, don't wait to call your doctor.