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Hard to stomach

Treating the symptoms of chronic indigestion requires a holistic approach: "So many factors can cause indigestion," says Jane de Barra, professional support pharmacist at Boots Ireland.

"Anything from a busy lifestyle to things like diet, allergies or some medications can all affect our digestive health." The typical symptoms of bad digestion include heartburn, bloating, cramps and constipation.

Your indigestion may well have a simple and single obvious cause, but if you're a regular sufferer, then you may be suffering from an underlying bowel disorder. Long-term conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn's disease may sound ominous but they are easily managed if treated properly.

Two high-profile sufferers are actress Cybill Shepherd and singer Anastacia. The pop star, who has Crohn's disease, had her small intestine removed when she was 13 because it had become infected.

"They had cut right through my stomach muscles and I was in a wheelchair for a while because I had no core muscles to support my weight. I was very angry about that scar for a very long time. I thought my life was over," said the singer, who carved out a successful career despite her setback.

And Cybill Shepherd has not let her problems with IBS hold her back, either. The star of Moonlighting and Taxi Driver has said she struggled with her symptoms for many years, and now hopes to raise awareness and encourage sufferers to talk more openly with their doctors.

"For years I have been battling recurring constipation, abdominal pain and bloating. I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome with constipation. It was a huge relief to find out that my IBS with constipation was not all in my head and that it was a treatable medical condition. My doctor prescribed Zelnorm and it has provided me with relief for all my symptoms."

There's no doubt that fast-paced living and the pressures of modern Ireland are taking their toll on the nation's overall well-being. "Lifestyle can be a major cause of digestive problems, especially if someone is carrying excess weight," says de Barra.

Spotting IBS

"This is a condition that affects up to 15pc of the population at any given time."

IBS is an unexplained stress-related disorder that's become more common in fast-paced western countries such as Ireland. It's marked by long-term disturbed bowel issues like constipation or diarrhoea, as well as abdominal discomfort or pain.

There may be no simple cure, but there is plenty you can do to make it more manageable. There are lots of over-the-counter products that can help relieve the symptoms. These include antispasmodics (Buscopan) and anti-diarrhoea (Imodium) medicines. Talk to your pharmacist for more advice.

Due to the unexplained nature of IBS, and its variety of symptoms, taking medicines is often a case of trial and error. Medications may not offer a complete solution.

As IBS is stress-related, just talking about it and facing any underlying issues might give you much-needed relief, especially if you can identify the stressor.

The important thing with IBS is to pay attention to it. Get to know your symptoms and try to work out the triggers and the treatments that work for you.

CROHN'S DISEASE AND HEARTBURN

Crohn's disease, or colitis, is an intrinsic condition that can be exacerbated by stress. It's thought to be an autoimmune disease, where the body's own immune system attacks the gastrointestinal tract, causing uncomfortable inflammation. Like IBS, Crohn's disease has no cure but the symptoms can be controlled.

"Heartburn affects up to 20pc of the population," says de Barra. The condition involves a painful burning sensation in the upper abdomen or chest. It can reach the throat and mouth, leading to a sour, burning, unpleasant taste. It can also lead to excess belching.

Avoid large portions when eating, say no to fatty foods and never eat before bedtime. It will also help to give up smoking, especially if you team your fag with a morning coffee.

If your heartburn is frequent or particularly unpleasant, see your GP. You may need tests, such as a gastroscopy, or stronger medication.

Indigestion Can Strike Anytime

Travelling to places where the food is unfamiliar can often cause indigestion. Even at home, dehydration or stress can cause you to feel some of the symptoms of indigestion. Some medicines such as codeine can cause constipation and other unpleasant side-effects.

Symptoms like constipation and flatulence can strike all ages. They can be embarrassing and difficult to confront but your pharmacist is always available for a confidential discussion.

It's important to keep your gut in balance. Do what you can to maintain a balanced digestive flora. Eating more fibre may be all it takes. Remember to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and never snack before bedtime. And don't forget to drink lots of water.


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