Do you ever feel gassy or bloated and wonder if it’s something to be concerned about? In a recent discussion with Dr. Bennie R. Upchurch, Gastroenterology Specialist with Adena Health System, we explore common digestive issues and identify when you should check in with your health care provider. We also provide informative tips in helping avoid digestive pain and discomfort.
Feel the “burn”?
At Adena Gastroenterology, we most commonly treat patients for frequent heartburn, or gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). Gastroesophageal reflux is when there is a backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus, or throat. It can cause an uncomfortable burning sensation in the chest, but is usually treatable with changes in diet and eating habits. Fatty foods, alcohol and tobacco can all contribute to heartburn. If heartburn occurs for patients more than 2-3 times a week, or they have other symptoms such as vomiting after meals, difficultly swallowing, coughing, wheezing or frequent chest pain, a patient’s condition may have progressed to gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. If they are experiencing any of these symptoms, they should contact their primary care physician or contact Adena Gastroenterologyfor the best treatment options.
We also treat patients for other common issues such as incontinence, ulcers, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), nausea, vomiting and more. Not all of these issues are serious, but if they are frequently reoccurring for patients, we advise them to come see us a soon as possible. Typically, all these issues are treatable and there is no reason anyone should suffer through uncomfortable symptoms.
Digestive Battle of the Sexes
We see almost an equal number of men and women for digestive issues, but some conditions seem more prevalent in one versus the other – basically, men’s and women’s digestive systems are not exactly the same. Men tend to have more issues with stomach acid and ulcers then women. And women tend to have more issues with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) than men. That doesn’t mean that men can’t have IBS or women can’t have Acid Reflux, but because of how their digestive systems work a little differently, some digestive issues do tend to appear more commonly based on a person’s sex.
Why Can’t I Eat as I Used to?
As you get older, your gut composition changes. Typically, patients will notice a difference in the impacts of food starting somewhere in their 50s-60s. Some changes can be triggered by changes in diet as we get older, or just a change in biology. It’s recommended as patients age, that they drink at least eight glasses of water a day and get plenty of dietary fiber, such as oatmeal, beans, nuts, and fruits such as apples, berries, citrus fruits, and pears.
It is not uncommon as patients get older that they become lactose intolerant; meaning their stomach can become highly agitated by dairy products, including milk, ice cream, cheese, etc. This is due to a decline in lactase, an enzyme in the small intestine responsible for breaking down the sugars in dairy and turning them into energy. It is not understood why this happens as some people get older, but it could be as simple as developing an intolerance, or it could be signaling the potential for some other digestive disorder like Crohn’s Disease, bacterial overgrowth or Celiac disease – all digestive issues where patients should seek their doctor’s help for treatment and guidance on relief. Like most digestive issues, some help can be gained through altering one’s diet and eating habits, and there are also helpful medications that may relieve some digestive pain and discomfort. Either way, it’s best to get it checked out by your health care provider or by making an appointment at with Adena Gastroenterology Department.
When Should You be Concerned?
Patients should be concerned if they see any significant change in their digestive process. Trouble swallowing, excessive heartburn, chest pain, nausea or frequent vomiting could all be indicators that something is off balance in the digestive system and patients should check with their primary care provider or Adena Gastroenterologyon how best to be treated. Similarly, if a patient is experiencing changes in their bowel, frequent diarrhea, incontinence, constipation, abdominal pain, frequent fevers or bleeding from the rectum -- bright red blood can mean there is an issue such as internal hemorrhoids – they should consult a physician as soon as possible. Although many issues can be treated with diet, early diagnosis is generally always better for digestive issues and solutions.
When Should You Not be Concerned?
Our body goes through changes as we age and that includes our gut and digestive system. Bloating and gas often become more frequent, but are not generally indicators of illness. Try changing some things in your diet that might seem to cause these discomforts like reducing certain vegetables or dairy. Paying attention and knowing how your body responds is very helpful should things change and you feel you’ve developed a more concerning symptom.
Can I Believe What I See on the Internet?
There are tons of ads on the internet promoting diets and digestive supplements. Pre- and probiotics have become more popular than ever. The reality is, while some patients may feel better taking these products, there is no evidence they make a great impact on the digestive system. In some cases, they may help cleanse or “reset” to make a healthy gut flora, but they won’t have much, if any, impact if there is a greater digestive issue at play. If patients are experiencing anything that seems more than out of the ordinary, they should consult with their health care provider or Adena Gastroenterology.