There are many different digestive symptoms that can cause people discomfort and distress. Broadly speaking we divide these into ‘upper digestive’ symptoms and ‘lower digestive’ symptoms. Upper digestive symptoms affect us from just below the diaphragm and upwards, whereas lower digestive symptoms affect us from the diaphragm downwards.
Common Upper Digestive Symptoms
- Heartburn / indigestion: a feeling of burning typically felt behind the breastbone in the middle of the chest. It can extend upwards towards the throat
- Dyspepsia: this is a feeling of acidity or burning in the upper central part of the abdomen, just below the breastbone
- Nausea: a feeling of sickness, usually centred in the upper abdomen
- Belching: passing wind upwards from the stomach, into the mouth
- Bloating: an uncomfortable feeling of pressure / discomfort in any part of the abdomen (can be upper, lower or both)
- Pain: an unpleasant sensation, can be constant or come in waves, which we call cramps
Common Lower Digestive Symptoms
- Pain and bloating can also be symptoms affecting the lower digestive system
- Diarrhoea (diarrhea): frequent passage of loose stools
- Constipation: infrequent passage of hard stools
- Obstructive defecation: this is where you get a sensation that you want to pass a bowel motion, but when you try to push, it feels like it is getting stuck and won’t pass
- Flatus: this is wind / gas that we pass from the anus and some people feel that they pass excessive flatus
- Incontinence: this is where you are unable to make it to the bathroom on time and stools leak out, or you have an ‘accident’. This term can also apply to leakage of urine.
What is a normal bowel habit?
This really does vary from person to person, but the accepted wisdom is that the normal range is anywhere from passing one bowel motion every 3 days, to three times per day. Some people will be in the middle, once per day like clockwork.
What do normal stools look like?
Again there is a normal range of appearance, and we use the Bristol Stool chart to help us describe the appearance of stools. Normal stools are somewhere in the middle from types 3-5, constipated stools are types 1-2 and loose stools are types 6-7.