Dealing with digestive distress

Last Modified: 8/30/2019

Corissa Piatka, PharmD, discusses the triggers and treatments for an upset stomach, including gas, acid reflux, nausea and diarrhea.

Common triggers for an upset stomach

Rich, fatty foods

Many foods we associate with special occasions or social gatherings are high in sugar and fat. These types of foods can slow down digestion and cause heartburn.

Large portion sizes

Overeating causes pressure on the esophageal sphincter, the muscle that prevents the backup of food and stomach acid into the esophagus. The increased pressure on this sphincter frequently results in stomach pain and acid reflux. Large quantities of food can slow down digestion, which can also contribute to heartburn and constipation.

Low amounts of fiber

Fiber plays an essential role in digestive health. Foods that are high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, are generally not a main component of the meals we eat at gatherings or restaurants. This can result in slowed digestion and constipation.


The psychological stress can often manifest physically as stomach upset and heartburn.

Prevention strategies

Eat smaller portion sizes, slowly

Smaller portion sizes will decrease the amount of food in the stomach, decreasing the amount of pressure on the esophageal sphincter. This can help to decrease stomach pain and heartburn. Eating slower also helps you avoid overeating and to keep the digestive process moving.

Limit alcohol intake

Alcohol can cause stomach upset and is another trigger for heartburn.

Exercise regularly

Exercise can improve the digestion process. Going for a walk after a large meal can help to keep the gut moving. Exercising regularly is also a helpful way to relieve stress, a common trigger for stomach upset.

Treatment options

When stomach upset does occur, there are several over-the-counter options for treatment. These medications can help to address various symptoms. Your pharmacist or physician can help you select the best agent for occasional digestive distress.

Heartburn/Acid Reflux


Nausea and Diarrhea

When to seek medical attention

The medications listed above should only be used for self-care of occasional upset stomach, heartburn, diarrhea and other digestive symptoms.

Signs and symptoms such as:

  • Those that are chronic or last more than a few days
  • Blood in vomit or stool
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Severe/debilitating chest pain or abdominal pain
  • Trouble swallowing

should not be treated without professional medical advice. These should be brought to the attention of a health care provider.

Need assistance?

Contact us