In the world of digestive problems—those annoying ailments that hurt your stomach, chest, and throat—few are as frustrating as constipation.

A heavy meal, however, can lead to digestive problems equally as annoying: heartburn, the burning sensation behind the breastbone—and the main symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Could there be a link between these two seemingly different digestive problems?

There are three key points to remember about constipation. The first is that it is a symptom, not a disease. The second is that it is defined by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, as having bowel movement fewer than three times per week.[1] And the third is that in America, it accounts for 2.5 million physician visits a year. Essentially, constipation is temporary, frequent, and generally not serious.

Benign as it may be, it can affect GERD because of the way it raises pressure inside the stomach cavity, increasing the likelihood to reflux. Moreover, if you are constipated, you can help ease the pain with many of the same methods used by those with GERD. This involves various lifestyle changes, such as:

1. Eating more fiber. This is the most common cause of constipation. Since fiber cannot be digested, it passes right through you. The average American eats 14 grams of fiber a day, which is less than half of what is recommended by the American Dietetic Association.[2]

2. Eating less fat. If you eat a lot of meats, cheese, eggs, and foods cooked in oils, you will most likely have trouble going to the bathroom. Interestingly, this relates to your body's need for lots of fiber, as fiber is prevalent in healthy, nonfattening foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. What's more, the healthier you eat, the more likely you are to lose weight—which is a way to reduce your risk of heartburn.

The bottom line: many digestive problems can be alleviated by adapting a healthier lifestyle. Talk to your doctor about ways you can get started.