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Digestion difficulties

Tuesday 11 July 2017

The torso of a person, who holds their stomach which looks to be in pain.
Diet and lifestyle changes can help prevent and manage many digestive issues.

Digestion is your body’s process of absorbing nutrients from the food you eat. You can read all about how digestion works in our article, Digestion 101.

Digestion problems are common – the Gut Foundation estimates that in any given year half the population may experience some kind of gut health problem. These can range from something quite harmless (but annoying!) like a bit of extra wind or indigestion, through to more serious gut health problems like cancer or inflammatory bowel conditions.

The good news is that diet and lifestyle can help to prevent and manage many of these conditions. Below we’ve listed just a couple of the common digestion problems Australians might encounter, what symptoms to watch for and how they can be treated.

Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most commonly reported gut problems, with one in five people reporting symptoms at some point in their life.

Symptoms may include diarrhoea, constipation, bloating or abdominal pain that is relieved by going to the toilet or passing wind. IBS is twice as common in women compared to men and may also be made worse by stress and hormonal cycles.

Many people find that altering their diet and lifestyle can help manage or reduce their IBS symptoms. Though IBS is relatively common, it’s important to rule out other causes for IBS-like symptoms before trying dietary modifications to manage the symptoms. Your GP might book some tests to investigate the cause of your symptoms or refer you to a dietitian to investigate links between your symptoms and your diet.

The lock on a toilet door, reading 'occupied'.

Reflux, acid reflux or heartburn

Reflux is also common, and is thought to affect between 10 and 20% of the population.

Reflux, which can also be called acid reflux or heartburn, is caused when acid from the stomach ‘leaks’ into the oesophagus and causes discomfort. Reflux symptoms can be made worse if you are overweight, eat large meals, lie down after eating or snack close to bed time. Some foods can also make reflux worse, including peppermint, alcohol, chocolate, tomato and citrus, high fat meals and carbonated or caffeinated drinks.

Your doctor might prescribe medication to help relieve the symptoms of reflux if dietary and lifestyle measures aren’t enough to manage the symptoms.

Symptoms to watch

Digestive issues are common. However if you have an ongoing change to your bowel habits or gut function, it’s best to make an appointment with your GP to check it out.

Last updated: 23 August 2017