Matters of the gut can be annoying to deal with. Read on for solutions. By Hazel Joanne Vincent De Paul
Photo: Andriy Popov/123rf.com
Dr Melvin Look, General Surgeon at PanAsia Surgery Group who specialises in gastrointestinal disorders, helps you deal with these common digestive concerns.
1. You feel bloated
Bloating isn’t just something that happens to women during that time of the month.
“Bloating can be caused by overeating, or by eating foods that are rich or very fatty,” explains Dr Look. In addition, eating too quickly can cause you to bloat and feel uncomfortable.
Sometimes, it can be severe enough to cause a swollen abdomen. Thankfully, bloating is rarely a sign of serious illnesses and can be treated easily.
How to deal: “The easiest way to be beat bloating is to control your food poritons, ease up on fatty foods and chew slowly to give your body time to process the food intake,” says Dr Look. Other suggestions: reduce hard-to-digest foods such as beans, lentils or whole grains.
2. Dairy does a number on you
If you are prone to stomach cramps or even vomiting after a dose of creamy ice cream, chances are, you’re suffering from lactose intolerance.
What does that mean exactly? “Your body is unable to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk or milk-based products,” Dr Look explains. Lactose intolerance can also develop as you age, as your body loses lactase, an essential enzyme for the digestion of lactose.
How to deal: “Monitor your dairy intake to see which types of milk-based food products trigger your symptoms,” says Dr Look. You may be able to tolerate small amounts of lactose. Still suffering? Talk to a doctor about getting tested for lactose intolerance.
3. You just can’t go
A common digestive problem, constipation can make it difficult to have a bowel movement or can result in irregular bowel movements.
It can be caused by eating too little fibre, leading a sedentary lifestyle or changing up your daily routine. Constipation is also a known side-effect for certain antacids or anti-depressants and may lead to straining at hard stools, which may predispose people to haemorrhoids and anal fissures, warns Dr Look.
How to deal: “Combat constipation by increasing your daily intake of fruits and vegetables. Getting adequate hydration is important too, notes Dr Look. Medicating with laxatives isn’t recommended as a long-term solution, as this can make you become dependent on artificial stimulation for relief. Plus, you should review any prescription medication you are taking “to see if it may cause gastrointestinal side effects”.
4. Gluten is not your friend
Do you experience abdominal pain, bloating or diarrhoea after consuming foods that contain gluten? It’s possible that you have Celiac disease (note: not the same a wheat intolerance or allergy).
In this genetic disorder, gluten triggers an abnormal immune response, which can damage your small intestine, so that it cannot absorb nutrients from food, leading to anaemia, osteoporosis or an increased risk of lymphoma.
How to deal: Dr Look recommends visiting a doctor, who will administer a physical exam or blood tests to confirm the diagnosis. To stay well, he suggests avoiding foods made with wheat, barley, triticale or rye, and upping your meat and veggie intake.
5. You cramp. A lot!
“Abdominal pains can sometimes start acutely and progress quickly in severity. This may be accompanied by fever, vomiting or other associated symptoms,” says Dr Look.
Such intense cramping can be a symptom of serious conditions such as perforated ulcers, acute appendicitis, and diverticulitis (infections in or inflammation of the small pouches that form the lining of the colon).
How to deal: Make an appointment with your doctor immediately if the pain is persistent. Most of these conditions are easily treated but in severe cases may require surgery.
6. Your chest burns
Occasional heartburn is normal, but frequent and excessive episodes may be caused by an abnormal backflow of acid and gastric juice from the stomach into the oesophagus – a condition that is known as Gastroesophageal Reflex Disease (GURD).
It typically occurs in those who are overweight as a side-effect from medications such as painkillers or anti-depressants. Dr Look explains that common symptoms include chest discomfort, food regurgitation, excessive belching, throat discomfort and even chronic coughing.
How to deal: While reflux is usually controlled with a course of acid blockers or other measures like weight loss or avoiding spicy, fatty or oily food, Dr Look says that long-standing reflux may cause cancerous changes in the oesophagus. A gastroscopy procedure can help diagnose GERD and exclude other harmful diseases such as oesophageal cancer.
A version of this story first appeared in The Finder.