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4 Tips for Living with a Digestive Disorder

Digestive disorders can be uncomfortable, but they don’t have to control your life. Follow these tips to ease your symptoms and manage the condition. A few simple changes can make a big difference.

1. Know your nutrition needs.

Dietary changes can help ease the symptoms of many digestive disorders. For some conditions, such as ulcerative colitis, nutrition is a very important part of managing the disease.

Different digestive disorders have different nutritional requirements:

  • For gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Avoid eating or drinking things that make heartburn worse. Common culprits include coffee, spicy foods, alcoholic beverages, and greasy foods. It can also help to eat smaller meals more frequently.

  • For celiac disease: It is very important to avoid foods and drinks with gluten. Gluten is a protein found in barley, rye, and wheat. In people with celiac disease, gluten triggers an immune reaction that damages the small intestine.

  • For Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis: Your doctor may recommend a special diet, such as a dairy-free diet, depending on your symptoms. Your doctor may also recommend supplements if you have trouble absorbing nutrients.

  • For irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): Large meals can trigger cramping and diarrhea, so eat small meals throughout the day. Low-fat, high-carbohydrate foods, such as rice and pasta, may be easier to digest.

Talk with your doctor or a dietitian to learn which diet changes could help you.

2. Keep a food diary.

Writing down what you eat can help you learn which foods cause you trouble. This is especially helpful for disorders such as IBS and Crohn’s disease, for which certain foods can trigger serious symptoms. A food diary is also a key part of diagnosing food allergies.

In your food diary, write down everything you eat and drink during the day. Record how much you consume and at what time. In the same diary, write down what symptoms you have and when they occur.

Share your food diary with your doctor. You may need to cut out foods that cause you problems.

3. Stop smoking.

Smoking contributes to many digestive diseases, including cancers of the digestive system. Here are a few ways smoking affects digestive diseases:

  • If you have GERD, smoking can make symptoms worse. That’s because smoking weakens the muscle that keeps stomach acid from backing up into the esophagus.

  • In peptic ulcer disease, smoking delays the ulcer’s healing process and increases the risk that ulcers will return.

  • People with Crohn’s disease who smoke tend to have worse and more frequent symptoms.

  • Smoking damages the liver’s ability to process medications, which can affect the treatment of other digestive disorders.

Ready to quit? Visit to learn more about stop-smoking methods and to create your quit plan.

4. Partner with your health care team.

Work closely with your doctor and specialists to get the best care possible. Tell your doctor about all your symptoms, even if you think they’re embarrassing. And make sure all your doctors have a full health history, a list of all the medications you take, and all your test results.

Together, you and your health care team can help manage your digestive disorder so that you can live a full life.


Online Medical Reviewer: Godsey, Cynthia, MSN, APRN, MSHE, FNP-BC
Online Medical Reviewer: Renee Watson, L., MSN, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2019
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.