How's your gut?

Digestive complaints such as constipation, diarrhoea, heartburn and bloating are very common and usually treatable with lifestyle measures and over-the-counter remedies.

Self-help advice

Most digestive problems can be eased if you:

Around 40% of people have at least one digestive symptom at any one time, according to Dr Anton Emmanuel, consultant gastroenterologist at University College Hospital in London.

The most common are:

"These are the big four and they’re so common that we take them for granted," said Dr Emmanuel.

"Most digestive problems are to do with lifestyle, the foods we’ve eaten, or stress. Which means that taking steps to change your lifestyle can help, and often prevent, many of these problems," he said. "And there’s a wide choice of pharmacy remedies for heartburn, indigestion and similar problems that are very good for the short-term relief of symptoms."

Watch your medicines

Certain medicines that your doctor may have prescribed for you for other health conditions can lead to side effects that may upset your tummy and cause indigestion, diarrhoea or constipation.

Aspirin and medicines used to treat arthritis, known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), should be avoided if you have an ulcer or you get indigestion. Consult your doctor if you rely on these medicines and are also prone to indigestion or ulcers. Paracetamol is a useful alternative.

Certain tranquillisers, painkillers, iron tablets and cough medicines can cause constipation and some people get diarrhoea while taking antibiotics or blood pressure pills.

Always inform your doctor if your prescribed medicines are upsetting your tummy.

Red flag symptoms

Dr Emmanuel warned that although digestive symptoms are usually harmless and often settle down by themselves, they can sometimes persist and be a signal of serious illness.

"People tend to underestimate how serious their symptoms are and that’s frustrating for doctors as we often see patients with gastrointestinal conditions later than we’d like, sometimes only when they’ve had their symptoms for years. If we could see them earlier we could, with treatment, improve their quality of life immensely," he said.

He advised anyone who has taken a pharmacy remedy for a digestive problem for two weeks with no improvement to consult their GP.

He also highlighted five "hardcore" symptoms, which mean you should see a doctor without delay. These symptoms may be an alarm warning of a serious digestive illness:

Page last reviewed: 21/06/2012

Next review due: 21/06/2014

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