The digestive system is a workhorse of the human body. When it breaks down, so do you. Here’s how to calm the most common belly beasts.
Burning in the chest
Where it hurts: Oesophagus, possibly throat.
How it feels: Burning pain, a sour taste in your mouth, belching and regurgitation.
DIY diagnosis: Acid reflux, the result of stomach acid sneaking into your oesophagus.
Your strategies: Pop a piece of (nonpeppermint) chewing gum. Chewing stimulates saliva, which is chock-full of bicarbonate, your body’s natural acid neutraliser. Feel the burn more than twice a week? You probably have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can lead to oesophageal cancer. Ask your doctor for an endoscopy to check for Barrett’s oesophagus, a collection of precancerous cells in your lower oesophagus.
A sore gut
Where it hurts: Appendix, the lower right abdomen.
How it feels: Tenderness or sudden sharp pain; possible fever, nausea, swelling, vomiting or constipation.
DIY diagnosis: Appendicitis.
Your strategy: Head to the hospital. You need surgery to remove the offending organ.
Where it hurts: Tail end of the lower intestine.
How it feels: Gurgling, cramping, gas and diarrhoea.
DIY diagnosis: Food poisoning caused by uninvited bacteria.
Your strategy: Have some dark chocolate. The flavonoids in it can limit the amount of fluids secreted in the small intestine, relieving mild symptoms. Add a pinch of prevention by flavouring your marinades with garlic, onion, allspice or oregano. These tasty antimicrobials kill bacteria, such as E coli.
A sour stomach
Where it hurts: Stomach, below the rib cage.
How it feels: Rhythmic, burning pain when you’re hungry.
DIY diagnosis: An ulcer. Painkillers and the bacteria Helicobacter pylori could be culprits.
Your strategy: Chuck the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Aspirin and ibuprofen impair your stomach’s defences, letting acid burn through the lining. Treating pain? Take them with food.
A stitch in your side
Where it hurts: Gall bladder, in the upper right abdomen, near the bottom of your ribs.
How it feels: Steady, sharp pain that rapidly intensifies for 30 minutes or more.
DIY diagnosis: Gallstones—cholesterol that has hardened to form small pellets.
Your strategy: Sound them out— ask your doctor for an ultrasound of your gall bladder. Most stones can be removed laparoscopically. The only way to avoid surgery is to prevent them in the first place. Your best defence is your diet. Men who eat the most saturated fat (who usually have large waistlines) are at the greatest risk.
Where it hurts: The lower section of your intestines, just below your navel.
How it feels: Uncomfortably full, yet your bowels won’t budge.
DIY diagnosis: Constipation.
Your strategies: Swig soda. Drinking carbonated water relieves constipation, according to Italian researchers. And hit the road. Research from the University of Washington shows that regular exercise helps your body move stool through the intestines.