How to Prevent and Relieve Digestive Problems

Just as simple things can upset your digestive system, simple changes can help. The following tips can help prevent or relieve digestive ills. See your health care provider if symptoms persist.


Although diarrhea can make you feel miserable, it is rarely cause for concern. Bacteria, viruses, emotional upset, stress, and certain drugs can cause diarrhea, says the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Most of the time, diarrhea in adults goes away by itself. If you notice blood or mucus in your stool; have a fever of 102°F (38.9°C) or higher, diarrhea for more than 3 days, or severe pain in the abdomen or rectum; or if repeated vomiting or signs of dehydration develop, call your doctor.

To help prevent or relieve diarrhea, follow these suggestions:

  • Drink glucose-electrolyte solutions.

  • Eat if you feel like eating.

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, milk products, and foods that are greasy, high in fiber, or very sweet while you have diarrhea.

  • Wash cutting boards and cooking utensils after preparing uncooked meat.

  • Wash your hands with soap after going to the bathroom, changing a baby's diaper, or handling uncooked meat.

  • DON'T eat poultry, meat, fish, or eggs if they are undercooked.


Stress, diet, and ignoring the urge to go to the bathroom can cause constipation. When stools pass through the colon too slowly, the large intestine draws too much water from them, making them difficult to pass, the NIDDK says. If this does not get resolved, you may need to seek medical attention to make sure that it is not more serious. 

These tips can help:

  • Eat high-fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain breads and cereals.

  • Get plenty of regular exercise. Be sure to check with your health care provider before beginning a fitness program.

  • Talk with your health care provider about any medications you take. Some may cause constipation.

  • DON'T wait to go to the bathroom.

  • DON'T abuse laxatives.


When the sphincter muscle between your esophagus and stomach relaxes inappropriately, stomach acid can wash back into the esophagus. This creates heartburn, a burning feeling just below or behind your breastbone. This condition is called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. GERD is caused by certain foods and eating habits, smoking and stress, among other things.

Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, citrus drinks, chocolate, mint, or spicy foods may help prevent heartburn.

These tips can also help:

  • Relax. Eat slowly and chew food completely.

  • Lose weight, if necessary.

  • Take an antacid or other medicines as directed by your health care provider.

  • Ask your health care provider about using over-the-counter medications called H2 blockers and acid pump inhibitors. Formerly available only by prescription, these drugs can be taken before eating to prevent heartburn.

  • Eat smaller portions.

  • DON'T overeat.

  • DON'T smoke cigarettes.

  • DON'T lie down right after you eat. Instead, wait a couple of hours.

  • DON'T eat or drink for 2 to 3 hours before you go to bed.