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How To Find The Best Medicine For Digestion Problems

Identifying Symptoms of Digestion Problems

Dr. Melody Hartzler Profile Photo

Written by Dr. Melody Hartzler on June 28, 2021

Digestion problems happen to everyone from time to time, and when they hit, you want relief fast. With so many different treatment options on the market, it can be confusing to know how to shop for medicine for digestion problems.

We’ve put together a complete guide that explains common digestion problems, what medications are used to treat them, and how to find the best medication for you.


How does the digestive system work?

The digestive system is a long and complex system that involves many different organs and processes. Digestion starts in your mouth, where your saliva immediately starts to break down food as you chew and swallow. After swallowing, the food moves down the throat to the esophagus, which transports your chewed food to your stomach. The esophagus slowly pushes food towards the stomach until it reaches a valve called the esophageal sphincter, which opens to allow food into the stomach.

After reaching the stomach, food is further broken down by the stomach acid. From the stomach, food moves into the small intestine, where secretions like bile and other digestive juices from the pancreas, gallbladder, and liver further break down the food. The small intestine absorbs the nutrients from the food, and any remaining waste enters the large intestine. Waste is then expelled from the large intestine through the rectum and anus.

With so many steps along the way, there are many different types of digestion problems that can occur.

What are some common digestion problems?

While there are dozens of different types of digestion problems that can occur, we’ll touch on some of the most common here. Gas and bloating, heartburn, constipation, and diarrhea are among the most common types of digestion problems.

Gas and Bloating

Although gas can be embarrassing, it is a part of the process of healthy digestion, and everyone experiences it. Gas can be expelled in the form of a burp or through the anus as gas, and most people pass gas between 13 and 21 times per day.

Gas becomes trapped in your digestive tract for two reasons. First, we swallow air when we eat and drink. Second, bacteria in the gut cause gas as a by-product of digestion when breaking down food. Some foods, such as beans, are well known for causing gas in most people, but everyone is sensitive to certain types of foods and may experience more gas when they eat those foods. Taking certain medications can also cause gas, as can having abdominal surgery.

Gas that builds up in the stomach and intestines causes bloating, which makes the abdomen feel and look swollen and full.

Bloating can happen to anyone, but it is commonly associated with the following conditions:

  • A stomach infection
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Celiac disease
  • Hormonal changes that occur around menstruation in women
  • Constipation

Heartburn/GERD

Heartburn, also known as acid indigestion or acid reflux, is an uncomfortable condition that causes burning and pain in the center of the chest or upper portion of the stomach. Some people find that the pain from heartburn can spread to the neck, jaw, or arms. The condition occurs when excess stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, causing a burning feeling.

While everyone experiences heartburn from time to time, people who experience heartburn at least twice a week for several weeks in a row or who find that their heartburn interferes with their regular activities may have a chronic condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

Heartburn occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter opens too frequently or does not close tightly enough, allowing stomach acid to back up into the esophagus.

Many different things can cause heartburn, but some of the most common triggers include:

  • Eating too much
  • Drinking caffeine or alcohol
  • Lying down soon after eating
  • Eating foods that are too spicy, acidic, fatty, or greasy
  • Smoking
  • Stress

Constipation

Each person has a different number of bowel movements per day or week that is considered normal for them. While some people may have multiple bowel movements every day, others may have a bowel movement every other day.

Constipation occurs when people have fewer bowel movements than normal, are straining to go to the bathroom, feel incomplete emptying after a bowel movement, or have hard stools.

There are many different causes of constipation, including:

  • Not drinking enough water
  • Getting too little exercise
  • Problems with the nerves or muscles around the large intestine or rectum
  • Taking too many laxatives
  • Taking certain medicines
  • Certain medical conditions
  • Pregnancy
  • Eating a diet low in fiber
  • Traveling or changing your routine
  • Blockages in the large intestine

Diarrhea

When you experience diarrhea, you may have loose or watery stool that is accompanied by stomach pain, bloating, cramps, or an urgent need to go to the bathroom. Diarrhea is commonly caused by factors such as viruses, parasites, medical conditions, bacteria, medications, and the food you eat.

How to Shop for Medicine for Digestion Problems

The first step in shopping for digestion medication is to understand what types of medications are available for the treatment of your specific digestion problems and what the medications do. There are many over the counter remedies for digestion problems.

Heartburn

Heartburn is commonly treated by medications like antacids, alginic acids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors. Each of these medications works slightly differently.

Antacids provide immediate relief by neutralizing stomach acid, and they are frequently combined with alginic acids.

Alginic acids protect inflamed areas of the GI tract by forming a protective coating on the organs.

H2 blockers reduce the amount of acid produced by the stomach and typically take about an hour to start working; the effects last for up to 12 hours.

Proton pump inhibitors lower stomach acid production for up to 24 hours.

Nausea and Vomiting

Sometimes, heartburn and GERD can contribute to feelings of nausea and vomiting. Nausea and vomiting can also occur if you eat something you shouldn’t have. Over the counter remedies for nausea and vomiting often include bismuth subsalicylate as an active ingredient, as this ingredient protects the lining of the stomach.

Other medications used to treat nausea and vomiting are also commonly used to treat motion sickness and may include active ingredients like cyclizine, dimenhydrinate, diphenhydramine, and meclizine. Unlike other medications for the treatment of nausea and vomiting, these medications act on your brain to reduce feelings of nausea and control the urge to vomit.

Constipation

The treatment for constipation often depends on what is causing the condition in the first place. Constipation can commonly occur as a result of getting too little exercise, not drinking enough water, eating a diet that is too low in fiber, and other factors, so if you find that the condition occurs regularly, you may need to make some lifestyle changes.

However, medication can help you deal with constipation on a short term basis.

Laxatives are commonly taken for the treatment of constipation, and there are several types available over the counter.

Bulk-forming laxatives work by adding fiber to the diet and help to draw water into the stool, making it easier to pass. It’s important that you drink lots of water when taking this type of laxative.

Osmotic laxatives take water from nearby tissues to make the bowel easier to pass.

Lubricant laxatives cover the stool with a slippery substance to make it easier to pass.

Finally, stimulant laxatives cause muscular contractions that squeeze the stool out of the bowels. They should only be used for a few days at a time.

Diarrhea

Diarrhea affects everyone from time to time. While lifestyle changes can often prevent diarrhea from occurring in the future, medication can help you deal with immediate symptoms, particularly if you are experiencing cramping.

Two types of medications are commonly used for the treatment of diarrhea: loperamide, which reduces the rate at which fluid moves through your bowels, and bismuth subsalicylate, which also slows down the rate at which fluids move in the bowel while simultaneously reducing inflammation and killing bacteria that could be contributing to your diarrhea.

Summary

Once you understand what kinds of active ingredients and medications are best suited to treating your digestion problems, it is time to look at the ingredients of the products.

While the active ingredients for many medications are highly effective, commercial over the counter medications commonly use cheap inactive ingredients that could irritate your stomach further. People with sensitive stomachs may want to consider using products that contain an effective active ingredient, as listed above, while prioritizing the use of natural or organic inactive ingredients to reduce irritation and limit your risk of experiencing further digestion problems.

Shopping for medicine for digestion problems can feel overwhelming simply because of the number of choices on the market. With so many treatment options available for so many different conditions, it can be hard to choose. The first step is to make sure you know which types of medications treat which digestion problems and how they work. Then, start to look for products that contain effective active ingredients while minimizing the use of cheap inactive ingredients that could further irritate your stomach.



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