How to stomach Christmas Tummy Troubles – by Dr Alan Watson, Consultant Gastroenterologist

Many of us overindulge in the lead-up to Christmas and over the holiday season. With numerous parties and gatherings to attend even the most sensible eaters and mildest drinkers can be prone to overindulgence.

In this latest health article also featured in the December edition of the West Essex LIfe Magazine,  Dr Alan Watson, Consultant Gastroenterologist at The Holly Private Hospital gives us his top tips for surviving the holiday season and beyond into 2018.

How do I know if I have indigestion or acid reflux and what’s the difference?
Indigestion, or ‘dyspepsia’ is any food-related abdominal discomfort. It’s caused by oversensitivity of the stomach and intestines due to the type, size and timing of meals. In particular, fatty foods, proteins and alcohol can cause the stomach to work more slowly and give a feeling of bloating under the ribcage. It’s usually harmless but intrusive and can also be linked with heartburn (also known as acid reflux or GORD – gastro-oesophageal reflux disease). Acid reflux is a separate and also very common condition caused by stomach acid rising up the gullet, causing a burning sensation, pain or even a bitter taste in the back of the mouth. Some sufferers will notice a change in the voice due to acid’s effects on the vocal cords

How can I deal with heartburn?
Heartburn can be effectively treated in the vast majority of cases with simple measures such as taking antacid liquids such as Gavison or tablets such as Rennies. These line the gullet and reduce the acid burning sensation. Tablets that reduce the stomach acid production (ranitidine or esomeprazole) are also available over the counter to take for short times.

How can I deal with bloating?
Bloating – that uncomfortable feeling of being inflated – can be very intrusive, concerning and embarrassing. It’s usually related to certain foods in the diet, and particularly when these are consumed in excess. Simple remedies have been shown to be effective – peppermint or ginger tea can really help, although formulations such as Wind-eze are also available. If bloating is very troublesome, probiotic supplements containing the ‘friendly’ bacteria lactobacillus and bifidobacteria can be effective in over 50% of cases.

How can I deal with constipation?
Changes in diet over the holiday period can result in changes in bowel habit. Constipation is common, but usually easily helped by increasing fibre in the diet, taking plenty of (non-alcoholic) fluids and regular gentle exercise. Rather than resorting to the chemist, try simple mother-knows-best remedies such as syrup of figs or prune juice in the first instance. A strong cup of coffee in the morning can also help to start the bowels moving if they’re a little sluggish.

What’s the best way to deal with a hangover?
When it comes to the inevitable hangover, I’m afraid there’s no magic cure and none of the old wives tales are actually proven to be of any benefit. ‘Hair of the dog’ is a definite no-no, but a small carbohydrate-based snack in the morning together with some banana (a good source of potassium) might help. Like all things, prevention is better than cure. A good drink of water before bed, together with a couple of paracetamol can stave off some of the dehydration and headache. If drinks start early, try arriving fashionably late and alternating alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Another top tip is to try not to arrive at a drinks event thirsty as this can lead to alcoholic drinks being used to quench thirst, which of course they don’t – quite the opposite in fact.

When should I see a doctor for any of these issues?
Abdominal symptoms are very common and usually harmless, but there is sometimes cause for concern. Pain that does not improve with the simple measures outlined above, or which persist over more than a few weeks should be checked out. Other ‘alarm symptoms’ are persistent reflux, a feeling of food sticking in the gullet, seeing any blood or having trouble with vomiting. Unplanned weight loss can also spell trouble and should be checked out by a professional.

I’ve heard some people tell me that they thought a bit of bleeding from the backside is normal. It’s not. Common problems like haemorrhoids are the most likely cause, but rectal bleeding can also be the first sign of something abnormal in the colon and should always be checked out. Also watch out for any persistent change in bowel habit in either direction, constipation or looseness.

I’ve got IBS. How can I avoid a flare up of IBS over Christmas?
If you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), then it’s also likely that you are aware of certain foods that can cause this to flare up. The most common are wheat and lactose, but a wide variety of foods can have an effect. Probiotic supplements can be of help and if urgency and looseness are a problem, a small amount of loperamide can help reduce symptoms. Remember though – persistent symptoms or ‘alarm symptoms’ should always be discussed with an expert.

What changes should I be making in the New Year to maintain good gut health?
Exciting times are ahead in 2018 and in the field of intestinal health this is definitely the case. Did you know that we all have more bacterial cells in our body than human ones? Bacteria in the gut are a normal part of all of us, and a vital part of our intestinal health and general wellbeing. Each week, more news comes out about this ‘microbiome’ and its effect on all aspects of our health. I think that probiotic treatments are going to become more mainstream and an ever-increasing number of us will be taking our intestinal health more seriously. This might mean making dietary changes, losing weight, or finally getting round to chatting to an expert about that tummy problem that’s been on the mind.

Although discussing your intestinal health and habits may seem rather daunting, remember that it’s something that an expert gastroenterologist does for a living. In the vast majority of cases, reassurance can be given with the minimum of fuss…. and that leaves plenty of time and peace of mind for enjoying all the other benefits of the Christmas season. Cheers!

Dr Alan Watson, Consultant Gastroenterologist has clinics at The Holly Private Hospital on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

To book an appointment call our friendly appointments team on 020 8936 1201 or alternatively you can email 


Date: 13/12/2017