Problem No. 1: Irritable bowel syndrome
The lowdown IBS "is a term doctors use to describe gastrointestinal issues such as recurrent diarrhea, bloating and/or constipation that they can't explain," says Alex Ky, MD, a colorectal surgeon at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
What it feels like The clinical diagnosis is abdominal pain or discomfort for at least three days a month in the past three months, plus at least two of these symptoms: pain that gets better after a bowel movement (BM), changes in BM frequency or a difference in how your BMs look. In some cases, symptoms can become so intense that you don't want to travel for long distances or even leave the house.
MORE: 18 Reasons Why Your Stomach Hurts
Rx Treatment might include over-the-counter medications such as stool softeners, fiber supplements, probiotics or prescription antispasmodic medications to relieve abdominal pain. Low-dose tricyclic antidepressants can reduce the intensity of pain signals going from gut to brain. You may also want to keep a food diary to see if any specific foods are causing flare-ups.
Fact: 60 percent of irritable bowel syndrome sufferers are women. No one is sure why we're so prone; it may be that the nerve cells in our digestive tracts are more sensitive.
Problem No. 2: Diarrhea
The lowdown When food and fluids aren't properly absorbed by the colon wallsmost commonly when you have a virus causing inflammation in your intestinesthey wind up exiting your body instead. Hello, diarrhea. Other, nonviral culprits include food poisoning, taking antibiotics or a lactose or fructose intolerance.
What it feels like Loose, watery, sometimes explosive stools, often with cramps and bloating.
Rx Traditional advice is to stick to the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast) or other bland, low-fiber foods. You may lose electrolytes (minerals in your blood) after many episodes of diarrhea, so snack on stuff that's rich in potassium, like avocados, and drink electrolyte-containing fluids, such as Gatorade or coconut water. Check with your doctor before taking over-the-counter antidiarrhea products like Imodium; while they can help with symptoms, they may mess with your body's natural process of getting rid of infection. Most of the time, symptoms resolve on their own within 24 to 48 hours. See a doctor if they don't, if you become dehydrated (signs may include dark urine and a headache) or if you have bloody or black stools.
Problem No. 3: Constipation
The lowdown Clinical constipation is defined as having fewer than one BM every five days. But "everyone's normal is different, and you can go fairly frequently and still feel constipated if you're struggling when you do go," Dr. Ky says.
What it feels like Your poops are hard and dry, so you really have to strain to pass them. You may also have bloating or lower-abdominal discomfort.
Rx Fiber is your best friend, since it bulks up and softens stool, making it easier to pass. Aim for at least 25 grams a day21g if you're over 50, says Alberto Barroso, MD, a gastroenterologist at Houston Methodist Hospital. (A cup of cooked black beans has about 15g, a medium apple has 4.4g and a cup of instant cooked oatmeal has 4g.) Just follow up all that fiber with waterat least 2 quarts a daysince without it, fiber can actually slow things down.
MORE: 20 Best Foods for Fiber
And don't put off bathroom time! Waiting (say, to squeeze in one more errand) can make you chronically constipated, Dr. Ky says, because the stool stays in your colon, which absorbs more of its fluid, making it drier and harder. If you're really plugged up, try an over-the-counter stool softener, such as Colace. Coffee works, too: The caffeine can stimulate your intestinal tract. For chronic constipation, you can talk to your doc about prescription meds.
Stuck? Try this move
A simple abdominal massage can help relieve constipation, according to a 2009 Swedish study. How to do it: Using both palms, stroke your tummy from the rib cage to about an inch below your belly button six times, then in a clockwise circular movement six times. Repeat for about 10 minutes.