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A Guide to Common Digestive Problems

Digestive issues go far beyond stomach aches. Explore this guide from TUMS to get informed on common digestive problems.

Understanding Digestive Problems

Do you feel unwell while you eat or afterwards? Digestive problems can be uncomfortable, sometimes even painful. Digestive issues can come in all shapes and forms. An upset stomach is a common sign of a digestive issue, but it’s not the only sign there is. In fact, digestive problems encompass a wide range of conditions and they show a variety of symptoms. If food causes you discomfort on a regular or semi-regular basis, an underlying digestive issue is probably at play.

If you have concerns about your digestive health, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Reading up on digestive problems and familiarizing yourself with typical symptoms is a good way to prepare for your appointment. Start your research here with the TUMS guide to digestive problems. This guide does not cover every digestive issue there is, but it does discuss some of the most common. Find out more below.

  • Heartburn

Heartburn happens when acid from your stomach flows back up your esophagus, causing pain and discomfort.1 While occasional feelings of heartburn may not necessarily be a reason for concern, frequent heartburn, which occurs two or more days per week, is more serious and should be treated as soon as possible.

Certain foods can trigger heartburn, including spicy foods, citrus fruits, tomato products, and fried foods.1 There are also a few beverages you may want to avoid or limit, including carbonated beverages, caffeine, and alcohol.1

What are the symptoms of heartburn?
Heartburn feels like a burning pain in the chest that occurs after eating or lying down.1 You may also notice that the pain worsens while bending over or feel a bitter or acidic taste in your mouth.1 There are a number of ways to treat the symptoms, including using an antacid such as TUMS. Learn more about how you can reduce heartburn.

At TUMS, we care about your digestive health. TUMS delivers fast, effective heartburn relief, but it won’t resolve other digestive problems included in the list below. For relief of digestive problems other than occasional heartburn, please consult your doctor.

  • GERD

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD, is another common digestive problem. GERD is often confused with heartburn. However, GERD and heartburn are not the same thing. GERD results from repeated or prolonged exposure of the lining of the esophagus to acidic or non-acidic reflux from the stomach.2 Heartburn is one symptom of GERD, 2 but not everyone who has GERD will experience this heartburn. TUMS does not treat GERD.

GERD symptoms include heartburn more than twice a week, heartburn that worsens over time, severe heartburn that wakes you up at night, as well as difficulty swallowing.3 Other symptoms of GERD include: belching, chronic sore throat, gum inflammation, teeth enamel erosion, and bad breath.3 GERD is a chronic disease. As such, an appointment with your doctor is necessary in order to determine the best treatment, which may include a combination of lifestyle changes and medicine.

  • Gallstones

Gallstones are a digestive problem that arise when the gallbladder doesn’t empty as it’s meant to. Gallstones, or cholesterol stones, form when bile from the liver contains too much cholesterol or doesn’t contain enough salts.4 Bile plays a role in digestion, so gallstones are a sign that your body isn’t digesting its food properly. Gallstones can exist in the gallbladder itself or in the bile ducts, the latter of which is more severe and can lead to infection.4

The symptoms of gallstones include the following: steady, severe pain in the upper abdomen, pain in the right shoulder or between the shoulder blades, nausea, vomiting, fever, yellowish color of the skin or whites of the eyes (also called jaundice), and chills.4 Symptoms can vary from individual to individual, so an appointment with your doctor is essential for a diagnosis. Depending on your symptoms and medical history, your doctor may prescribe drugs, injections, or other options as a course of treatment.4

  • Food Allergies and Intolerances

Allergies or intolerances to one or multiple foods can be frustrating to deal with, and they are not uncommon. From fruits to dairy to nuts, our bodies have the potential to react negatively to a wide variety of foods. Allergies and intolerances are two separate conditions. While food allergies trigger an immune response that affects your body’s organs, a food intolerance (such as lactose intolerance) is a digestive issue that can sometimes be managed by limiting your intake of certain foods or by taking enzyme pills to help support digestion. 5

Symptoms of food allergies and intolerances vary in form and severity. Food allergy symptoms include rash or hives, nausea, cramping, diarrhea, itchy skin, shortness of breath, chest pain, and difficulty breathing.6 Food intolerance symptoms can be similar and include nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, heartburn, gas, bloating, and headaches.6 If you believe you might have a food allergy or sensitivity, reach out to your doctor immediately.

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome is a common digestive problem that affects the large intestine. 7 This syndrome can cause discomfort and be a challenging issue to manage. It’s considered a chronic condition and you may need to make certain lifestyle changes—including diet changes—to help you manage it in the long term.

Symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain, cramping, and bloating.7 You may also notice changes in the appearance and consistency of your bowel movements.7 If you find yourself going too much or not enough, or if you’re experiencing constipation or diarrhea regularly, there is a chance it is a sign of IBS.

While the exact cause of IBS is not known, experts believe gut health—including changes in gut microbes—may play a role.7 Food and stress can also be triggers for IBS.7 If you think you might have IBS, don’t try to self-diagnose. Instead, schedule an appointment with your doctor so that you receive an official diagnosis and can begin a course of treatment.

We hope you found our guide to common digestive problems helpful. Learn more about digestive health issues like indigestion today.


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  1. Heartburn - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Accessed 10/27/2020.
  2. What is GERD? About GERD - International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. Accessed 10/28/2020.
  3. Overview. About GERD - International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. Accessed 10/28/2020.
  4. Gallstones. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Accessed 10/28/2020.
  5. Food allergy vs. food Intolerance: What's the difference? Mayo Clinic. Accessed 10/28/2020.
  6. Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed 10/28/2020. Referenced text is enclosed in a red box in source PDF.
  7. Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Mayo Clinic. Accessed 10/28/2020. Referenced text is enclosed in a red box in source PDF.
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