Some may shy away from discussing their digestive problems, even with their physicians. But if you are having chronic digestive problems, your health may be at risk. Gas, diarrhea, and constipation are common complaints and are often the result of poor nutritional habits. So how do you know if it’s something more serious?
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you should see your doctor:
• Frequent or severe abdominal pain.
• Frequent or severe diarrhea or constipation.
• Losing weight without trying.
• Any rectal bleeding or bloody bowel movements. This may indicate digestive disease or colon cancer. You should never ignore this symptom.
Tests and treatment
Your doctor may perform tests to diagnose your condition, including: an abdominal X-ray; an endoscopy, in which a thin scope is inserted through the mouth or rectum to examine the stomach, colon, and intestines; a blood sample; or stool sample.
“One of the main things a physician will do in evaluating digestive symptoms is to assess them in light of your overall health and seek other symptoms and signs that could suggest a dangerous illness,” explains Dr. Lisbeth Selby of the University of Kentucky HealthCare Digestive Health Program. “This is a well-established and cautious method that avoids unnecessary testing for the patient.”
Digestive disorders and diseases can be treated with medication to help relieve symptoms. Your doctor may also recommend a special diet, exercise, and stress reduction.
Avoiding common problems
If you want to avoid many common digestive problems and maintain a healthy digestive system, follow these recommendations:
- Choose foods that are better for you and be mindful of what you eat. Notice the effects certain foods have on your body. Avoid foods that cause digestive problems or make you feel sluggish. Eat more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit fried foods and other foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Limit your sugar and sodium intake. It’s very important to eat a high-fiber diet. The recommended daily fiber intake is 25-30 grams. Be sure to include both soluble and insoluble fiber and to increase your fluid intake as you increase your fiber intake.
- Choose beverages carefully. Drink plenty of water—at least 64 ounces a day, more if you are extremely active, pregnant, or work in hot conditions. Cut back on sweetened beverages such as cola. Limit alcoholic beverages.
- Choose being active over being a couch potato. Exercise for 30-60 minutes per day. You don’t have to run a marathon. Just take a brisk walk after dinner each night.
For more information or to make an appointment, contact the UK HealthCare Digestive Health Program at (859) 323-5575. For UK HealthCare Fact Sheets on digestive health and other health topics, call (859) 257-1000 or (800) 333-8874, or go online to www.ukhealthcare.uky.edu.