Digestive Health

Whether eating a greasy cheeseburger or an apple, your digestive system is designed to turn the food you eat into the nutrients your body needs for energy, growth, and cell repair. The digestive tract (or gastrointestinal tract) is a long twisting tube that starts at your mouth and ends at your anus. Along the way are a series of muscles that coordinate how food moves through your body and other cells that produce enzymes and hormones to aid in the breakdown of food.

When the process works as it should, you’re happily unaware. But when there’s a problem, the signs are easy to recognize – diarrhea, bloating, constipation, heartburn, and belly pain. Keep reading to learn more about common tummy troubles and how to treat them.

Heartburn

Also referred to as acid reflux, heartburn is an uncomfortable, painful, or burning feeling in your chest or throat that may begin after a meal and last a few minutes to many hours. It happens when stomach acid backs up into your esophagus, the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. Other symptoms may include a hot, sour, or acidic fluid felt in the back of your throat, as well as a cough that lasts for a while, sore throat, or hoarse voice.

If you experience heartburn, you know it’s more than just uncomfortable or painful – it can affect your daily life. It can also disrupt sleep, productivity at work, and social occasions. It’s important not to ignore your symptoms. Even a small amount of stomach acid can cause significant pain or discomfort. If left untreated, the stomach acid that causes heartburn can even damage your esophagus and teeth.

Heartburn Treatments

When deciding how to treat your heartburn symptoms, there are many options to consider. Occasional and frequent heartburn is relatively common and can be managed with lifestyle changes as well as with certain over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. There are also several lifestyle changes that you can make to help reduce or avoid the symptoms of heartburn including, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and/or practicing relaxation techniques.

More chronic or severe cases of heartburn can result from a diagnosed condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and may require more intensive medical care such as using prescription (Rx) medicines or even surgery.

Antacids

These medicines provide quick heartburn relief by neutralizing or weakening the stomach acid. They usually come as a liquid, chewable gummy or tablet, or a tablet that you dissolve in water to drink. While antacids are quick and convenient, they don’t prevent future episodes of heartburn.

OTC antacids

H2 Blockers

These medicines are named after the receptor they block, the H2 receptor, which reduces the amount of acid your stomach makes. Symptom relief from H2 blockers tends to last longer than antacids, but it also takes longer for them to start working. One H2 blocker tablet can be taken before a meal to prevent heartburn or after a meal to relieve heartburn. Typically, you should not take more than two tablets in a 24-hour period.

OTC H2 blockers

Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)

These medicines are used to treat frequent heartburn (occurs two or more days a week) by blocking the production of stomach acid at its source. OTC PPIs should be taken once a day (in the morning before a meal) for 14 days, up to three times per year. They take one to four days to work.

OTC proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
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Safe use tips for heartburn medicines

Always read the Drug Facts label carefully. The label tells you everything you need to know about the medicine, including the ingredients, what you are supposed to use it for, how much you should take, and when you should not take the product.

Talk to your healthcare provider if you still experience heartburn symptoms after taking these medicines. Persistent heartburn symptoms may be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.

Unless directed by your doctor, do not take heartburn medicines more often than directed on the label.

Heartburn medicines can interact with other medicines, so tell your pharmacist or healthcare provider about all medicines you are taking.

Infants and children can experience heartburn. Treatment for heartburn in children is determine by a healthcare provider based on the child’s age, overall health and medical history, and severity of symptoms.

Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.

Diarrhea

We’ve all been there. You know it’s diarrhea when you pass loose, watery stools that leave you making several urgent trips to the bathroom in a short period of time. You may also experience cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, fever, and/or vomiting. Fortunately, in most cases, diarrhea lasts 2-3 days and can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. For these mild cases, the most important things you can do is to stay hydrated as the diarrhea runs its course and avoid foods that will make your symptoms worse.

For more serious cases, when diarrhea lasts more than three days, or a child has been experiencing symptoms for more than 24 hours, it’s important to consult your healthcare provider.

Diarrhea Treatments

While most of the time minor bouts of diarrhea do not need to be treated, there are some OTC medicines that can help you find fast relief.

Antidiarrheals

These medicines can help to slow or stop loose, watery stools. But you shouldn’t take them for very long. You should also see your doctor if you find that you rely on these medicines often. They may help you find temporary relief, but it’s important to find out what is causing your diarrhea in the first place.

OTC antidiarrheals
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Safe use tips for antidirrheal medicines

Always read the Drug Facts label carefully. The label tells you everything you need to know about the medicine, including the ingredients, what you are supposed to use it for, how much you should take, and when you should not take the product.

You should never take more medicine or for a longer period of time than what the Drug Facts label says.

You should drink plenty of clear fluids to help prevent dehydration caused by diarrhea.

Constipation

Constipation, or occasional irregularity, is a fairly common condition that is defined as infrequent bowel movements accompanied by hard, dry stool that is difficult or painful to pass. While normal bowel frequency varies from person to person, you may be suffering from constipation if you have to strain excessively, pass less than three stools in a week, and have a “blocked” feeling in your rectal area.

There are many reasons why you may become irregular, including poor diet, dehydration, and lack of exercise. The root cause of constipation is when the muscle contractions in the colon become sluggish or the colon absorbs too much water, which makes the stool become hard and dry and move too slowly through the colon.

Constipation Treatments

Laxatives, like all over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, contain certain active ingredients that make the products work in the human body. There are six basic types of OTC laxatives, listed below. Depending on the product type, laxatives can be taken orally or inserted into the rectum. Some laxatives may contain more than one active ingredient.

Bulk-forming Laxatives

These medicines increase bulk volume and water content of the stool which promotes a bowel movement. These OTC products are for oral use and must be taken with plenty of fluid. Bulk-forming laxatives generally product a bowel movement within 12 to 72 hours.

OTC bulk-forming laxatives

Hyperosmotic Laxatives

These medicines attract water into the stool which promotes bowel movement. OTC hyperosmotic laxatives in suppository form are intended to be inserted into the rectum and generally product a bowel movement within 15 minutes to one hour. If taken orally, they generally product a bowel movement in one to three days.

OTC hyperosmotic laxatives
  • Glycerin
  • Polyethylene glycol 3350

Lubricant Laxatives

These medicines coat the intestinal tract and soften the stool which helps to lessen straining and promote a bowel movement. OTC lubricant laxatives that are taken orally, they generally product a bowel movement within six to eight hours. Those that are used rectally generally produce a bowel movement within two to 15 minutes.

OTC lubricant laxatives
  • Mineral oil

Saline Laxatives

These medicines draw water into the colon which promotes bowel movement. OTC saline laxatives that are taken orally generally produce a bowel movement within six to 12 hours. Those that are used rectally generally produce a bowel movement within two to 15 minutes.

OTC saline laxatives
  • Dibasic sodium phosphate
  • Magnesium hydroxide
  • Monobasic sodium phosphate

Stimulant Laxatives

These medicines cause rhythmic muscle contractions in the intestines which promote bowel movement. OTC stimulant laxatives that are taken orally generally produce a bowel movement within 12 to 72 hours. Those that are used rectally generally produce a bowel movement within two to 15 minutes.

OTC stimulant laxatives

Stool Softener Laxatives

These medicines penetrate and moisten the stool which prevents dryness and promotes a bowel movement. OTC stool softeners that are taken orally generally produce a bowel movement within 12 to 72 hours. Those that are used rectally generally produce a bowel movement within two to 15 minutes.

OTC stool softener laxatives
  • Docusate
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Safe use tips for laxative medicines


Always read the Drug Facts label carefully. The label tells you everything you need to know about the medicine, including the ingredients, what you are supposed to use it for, how much you should take, and when you should not take the product.

Ask a healthcare provider before using a laxative if you have abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or have noticed a sudden change in bowel habits lasting for two weeks.

Stop using a laxative and contact your healthcare provider if you have rectal bleeding or no bowel movement after use. These could be signs of a serious condition.

When using an enema, be careful not to use force when inserting the product’s tip into the rectum.

If you are pregnant or nursing, talk to a doctor before using a laxative.

Talk to a healthcare provider before using a suppository on a child under the age of two.

Discontinue use of a suppository on a child if you encounter resistance. Forcing product insertion may cause injury.

OTC laxatives are available in different dosage strengths. Do not give any medicine to a child that is only intended for use in an adult.

Gas

As you digest food, gas is a normal result of the process. But while it’s an ordinary occurrence, it can be painful and embarrassing at times.

Gas Treatments

In addition to making changes to your diet and ensuring you chew food properly, there are also over-the-counter (OTC) medicines available to temporarily find relief.

Antiflatulents

These medicines work by changing the surface tension of gas bubbles in the stomach and intestines. They usually come in the form of a tablet, chewable tablet, capsule, or a liquid.

OTC Antiflatulents
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Safe use tips for antiflatulents medicines

Always read the Drug Facts label carefully. The label tells you everything you need to know about the medicine, including the ingredients, what you are supposed to use it for, how much you should take, and when you should not take the product.

You should never take more medicine or for a longer period of time than what the Drug Facts label says.