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Gut Check Time

If digestive problems cause you to plot out your bathroom breaks, you’re not alone.

“It’s pretty common for most people to experience digestive problems from time to time,” says Thadis C. Cox, MD, St. Claire HealthCare gastroenterologist. “But there are about 60 to 70 million people in the U.S. that suffer from a serious digestive disease.”

If uncomfortable digestive symptoms are disrupting your daily activities (or are just a pain in the you-know-what), read on to learn how you can find relief.

­ Constipation

What it is: Infrequent or difficult-to-pass bowel movements, often accompanied by the feeling of a full and bloated abdomen.

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 enough fiber,” says Dr. Cox. And ask your doctor whether constipation could be a side effect of any medications you are taking. If you discover blood in your stool, see a physician immediately.

­ Gas and Bloating

What it is: “Everyone passes gas,” says Dr. Cox. “But it shouldn’t cause pain, and it should pass normally.” When gas doesn’t pass through the system normally, it gets caught in the stomach and intestines and causes bloating.

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

What you should do: If you experience regular discomfort, talk with your healthcare provider to rule out lactose intolerance, food sensitivities or celiac disease. Reduce or eliminate things that continually cause excess gas, such as beans, broccoli, cabbage, soda, cauliflower, and gum.

Diarrhea

What it is: Loose stools that are often accompanied by gas and bloating.

What it could mean: Diarrhea is commonly associated with stomach viruses or bacterial infections.

“Food intolerances, certain medications, intestinal diseases, and parasites also can cause diarrhea,” says Dr. Cox. “Caffeine and dairy products, and even stress, produce diarrhea in some people.”

What you should do: It’s normal to experience diarrhea occasionally, but 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 provider.