Heartburn or gastro-oesophagal reflux is an inflammation caused by reflux of the acid contents of the stomach into the lower part of the oesophagus. This gives an irritation, inflammation and ulceration of the oesophagus, termed oesophagitis.
Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a general term used to describe pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen, arising from the first part of the digestive system (oesophagus (gullet), stomach and duodenum (part of the small intestine)).
The term basically means ‘poor digestion’ and symptoms arise mainly because of a disturbance to the first part of the digestive process when food is broken down before being absorbed into the body.
The terms ‘bloating’ and ‘bloated’ are often used to describe feelings of being full, distended or tight around the abdomen. They usually refer to the presence of wind, gas or flatulence in the digestive tract.
From the medical viewpoint, bloating is a non-specific symptom and doctors will look beyond the digestive system to eliminate other causes of abdominal swelling.
For a summary description of the causes of abdominal distension, follow the link to our page on bloating.
Diarrhea is the passage of loose or watery stools, usually associated with the need to go to the toilet more than four times in a 24 hour period.
If diarrhea is the result of a bacterial or viral infection, it tends pass after a few days. This is known as acute diarrhea.
However, if you are suffering from diarrhea because of condition such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), then it is likely that your symptoms will persist and last much longer and this is often referred to as chronic diarrhea.
Constipation is the term used when we do not move our bowels frequently enough. However, what we don’t really know is how often is ‘enough’.
Doctors would generally say that moving your bowels 3 times a week is sufficient and anything less would suggest that you are constipated, especially if your stools are hard and difficult to pass, or if going to the toilet causes you pain.
Naturopaths and herbalists, however, take the view that we need to open our bowels at least once a day – if not twice. They believe that good regular bowel habits will help one avoid many ailments in the digestive system, and other health conditions.
Gas is a normal, daily occurrence within the digestive tract. As food moves through the digestive tract, microbial breakdown of nutrients releases gas as waste byproducts. Eventually, this gas is released as either belching or as flatulence through the anus.
Foods that are comprised of poorly digestible carbohydrates such as fibre, sugars that are easily fermentable, sugar alcohols, and fats all increase gas production.
While flatulence may be a source of comedy in some cultures, it can also be a sign of an underlying digestive disorder. Excessive flatulence is commonly seen in malabsorption syndromes, such as inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), lactose intolerance, and celiac disease.