Digestive Disorders

Will probiotics help my constipation?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I suffer from constipation. Do you think probiotics might help?

DEAR READER: Probiotics are living bacteria found in cultured foods, like yogurt, and in dietary supplements. They have long been touted for their ability to ease digestive woes. The strongest evidence for probiotics is in treating diarrhea caused by a viral infection or from taking antibiotics. Our bodies are home to a mix of "good" and "bad" bacteria.

Why should I cut back on my heartburn medication?

DEAR DOCTOR K: For years I've been taking a PPI twice a day for heartburn. My doctor wants me to cut back, or stop altogether. But the idea frightens me. Do you think it's possible?

DEAR READER: To anyone tormented by frequent heartburn, not taking your daily tablet -- or tablets -- of omeprazole (Prilosec) or lansoprazole (Prevacid) might seem like a scary idea. These and similar drugs, known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), are the foundation of treatment for heartburn, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

What are natural methods of treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have irritable bowel syndrome with alternating constipation and diarrhea. Will eating more fiber help? What about probiotics or other non-medical treatments?

DEAR READER: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common intestinal disorder with many unpleasant symptoms. Many people with IBS go back and forth between diarrhea and constipation, with pain and bloating in between. Others always have diarrhea or constipation. Unfortunately, there is no cure for IBS. However, there are a number of things you can do to improve your symptoms. Adding fiber to your diet can help relieve constipation.

Can lifestyle changes help relieve heartburn?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Can lifestyle changes help relieve my heartburn?

DEAR READER: Heartburn is an uncomfortable burning sensation that radiates up the middle of your chest. It results from a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or "reflux." With GERD, stomach acid surges up into the esophagus, the "swallowing tube" that connects our mouth to our stomach.

How can I stop excessive burping?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I burp constantly. What can I do to stop it?

DEAR READER: Occasional burping usually results when foods produce gas during the digestive process and that gas escapes through your mouth. But if you're burping frequently, it is almost certainly the result of swallowing air. Many people swallow air when they breathe or speak without even realizing it. You can probably reduce your belching by making lifestyle changes to decrease the amount of air you swallow. For example, don't drink through a straw or chew gum. If you smoke, quit. Getting properly fitted dentures can help too, since loose dentures can also cause you to swallow air.

I have irritable bowel syndrome. Can you explain what has caused it?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have irritable bowel syndrome. Can you explain what has caused it?

DEAR READER: The honest answer is we don't know what causes irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Over the past 20 years, we've discovered some clues and developed some new treatments. IBS is a common condition. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea and/or constipation, bloating, gassiness and cramping. Here is the criteria that doctors look for when diagnosing IBS:

What is the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance?

DEAR DOCTOR K: What is the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance?

DEAR READER: They both involve food, but other than that, food allergies and food intolerances have little in common. Food allergies are orchestrated by the body's immune system. Food intolerance results from the gut's inability to digest food normally. Food allergies can be fatal; food intolerance causes discomfort but is not usually serious.

Medications haven’t helped my “functional dyspepsia” — Could something more serious be wrong?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My doctor says I have "functional dyspepsia." Medications haven't helped. Could something more serious be wrong?

DEAR READER: Dyspepsia is a medical term for persistent upper abdominal pain or discomfort. When doctors use the word "functional," they mean that there is no identifiable cause for the problem. By this definition, the majority of people with dyspepsia may have functional dyspepsia.

Is there any risk with over-the-counter medicine for my toddler’s frequent constipation?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My toddler has frequent constipation, and I have been giving him milk of magnesia about once a week. Is there any risk with this over-the-counter medicine?

DEAR READER: I'd suggest speaking to your pediatrician or family physician before continuing to give your son milk of magnesia. Normally, children pass stool at regular intervals without much effort or pain. Infants and toddlers typically have several bowel movements a day. Most children age 2 or older have one every day.