Everything you eat goes through your digestive system.
Food goes in your mouth, into your stomach.
The parts of your food that your body doesn’t need go out of your body into the toilet (this is your body’s waste).
In your digestive system your body:
Breaks down food into different parts that keep you healthy
Changes food into energy your body can use
Gets rid of things it does not need (waste)
Any illness that affects your digestive system is called a gastrointestinal illness.
Gastrointestinal illnesses (or digestive problems) can be:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Other illnesses that affect your intestines, stomach, or colon
Anyone can get digestive problems, but you are at extra risk if you:
Have a history of food allergies or food intolerances
Regularly take aspirin or other pain relievers
Drink a lot of alcohol
- You can also get digestive problems from being upset or feeling distressed.
Stomach flu and food poisoning are common gastrointestinal illnesses.
Some illnesses, like flu, can be contagious.
- Contagious means that someone who is sick can give the sickness to other people.
These illnesses usually go away in a few days.
You may have a gastrointestinal illness if:
You have diarrhea (watery and loose bowel movements)
You can learn more about diarrhea on the DDS Safety Net.
You may also have a gastrointestinal illness if:
Your stomach hurts or burns
You always feel full
You feel like you need to throw up or actually throw up
You begin to lose or gain weight
You always feel tired
Call the doctor immediately if you:
Have very bad pain in your stomach
Throw up your food right after eating
See blood when you go to the bathroom or throw up
Feel very warm (have a high fever)
Have diarrhea that lasts longer than 3 – 5 days
Tell the doctor about:
What you are feeling in your body (your symptoms)
What food you ate
What medicine you took
Any people around you who are sick
Any family members that have digestive problems
Your doctor may test to see if you have a gastrointestinal illness. To test you your doctor might :
Take a sample of your bowel movements
Take a sample of your blood
Take x-rays to look inside your body
Look inside your intestines with a small camera (called a colonoscopy)
Your doctor will tell you what to do to get better.
The doctor may give you medicine.
- Tell the doctor what medicines you are already taking before you start any new medicines.
Make sure you understand all of the doctor’s instructions before you leave the doctor’s office.
If your stomach hurts, there are other things you can do to help yourself feel better.
Drink lots of water (especially if you have diarrhea).
Drink soup to give your body the nutrients it needs.
Eat soft, plain food like toast, bananas, rice, or eggs.
What can I do to prevent gastrointestinal illnesses?
Wash your hands often, especially:
- Before cooking
- Before eating
After using the bathroom
Don’t share hand towels.
Make sure you eat meat or fish that is well-cooked.
Get regular check-ups with your doctor.
You can also prevent illnesses by living a healthy lifestyle.
Eat and drink sensibly.
- Eat a balanced diet with foods that are high in fiber: vegetables, beans, and whole grain bread.
- Drink lots of liquids.
Exercise every day.
Set realistic goals for yourself.
Take time for relaxation.
Where can I learn more about digestive problems and gastrointestinal illness?
Mayo Clinic: Digestive Symptoms
WebMD: Digestive Disorders Health Center
Revolution Health: Digestive Health
You can also use these great resources.
Ask your doctor.
Check out these DDS Safety Net presentations: