We discuss various disorders that affect the human body, but there is one serious malady suffered by the majority of us that is swept under the carpet. Behnaz Sanjana gathers some gumption to address digestive disorders.
So, you’ve walloped down that super-sized meal with great gusto. However, soon after, you’re in the digestive doldrums; restless and uncomfortable for the rest of the day or night. Sounds familiar?
Your digestive system is intricate and complex; starting with the first morsel of food in your mouth and working hard to do its job till you visit the comfort throne. This miraculous system is what your overall health depends on. Keeping it healthy is the secret to looking and feeling fantastic every day.
Well, who hasn’t had a bout of acidity or two? When the stomach produces more acid than necessary to digest your food, it leaves a burning sensation in the gut. Heartburn is when stomach acids travel all the way up your oesophagus causing a severe burning sensation in your food pipe that would make even Superman clench his teeth and reach for the fire extinguisher.
Gastroenterologists medically refer to this as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). “Stomach acid is more potent than battery acid and the oesophagus is not prepared to handle it. This acidic mixture backing up into the oesophagus can actually damage it,” says Dr Yasser Sawaf, gastroenterologist at the International Hospital Bahrain.
Some cases of GERD leave medics baffled for a cause, while others are directly linked to lifestyle – obesity, increased consumption of fatty foods, lack of exercise and smoking. “However, reflux disease also can be caused by trauma, a medical condition or certain medications,” says Dr Sawaf.
A change in lifestyle habits is essential for long-term relief from reflux disease, but that won’t be effective immediately, especially if there is already damage to the oesophageal tissue, warns our expert. Medicines such as antacids work by reducing or blocking stomach acid. “Over time, reflux disease, left untreated, can lead to complications such as an ulcer or stricture of the oesophagus, erosive oesophagitis, or Barrett’s oesophagus — a precancerous condition where the delicate lining of the oesophagus takes on the appearance and characteristics of the tough lining of the stomach,” says Dr Sawaf.
That’s reason enough not to sleep over your heartburn.
All Bunched Up
Constipation – that annoying condition when you find it difficult to ‘go’, or when you get red-faced while you have a bowel movement – is a common condition across all ages.
Low-fibre foods, such as animal meat, cause constipation. Fibre increases stool bulk and decreases colonic transit time, thereby thwarting constipation.
“Fibre-rich foods such as bran, blackberries, baked beans, raisins, oats, pumpkin etc. ease constipation and physical activity helps ease and regularise bowel movements,” says gastroenterologist specialist, Dr Sesha Chalapathi Rao from the Bahrain Gastroenterology & Hepatology Centre at Bahrain Specialist Hospital.
Dr Rao explains that the body regulates how much water it absorbs and how much it excretes. If you aren’t drinking enough water, your body clings on to every last drop to perform important functions (like maintaining blood volume). Since there isn’t any fluid remaining for less essential needs (like defecation), the waste matter in your colon becomes dehydrated and hard, making it painful to part ways with.
It Wasn’t Me…
Flatulence and belching – they sometimes manifest as noisy explosions, causing the offender extreme embarrassment. Some silent killers slip out stealthily, making even the Mona Lisa change expression. The fact is – everybody (including the most stunning woman on earth) does this, 10-20 times a day.
Women often complain of feeling ‘bloated’. “Bloating is an ambiguous term to a subjective sensation of a swollen abdomen, full belly, abdominal pressure or excessive gas. More often, patients complain about this after a meal but on a few occasions it can also happen otherwise,” explains Dr Kenneth Virador, specialist in internal medicine and gastroenterology at AMH, Bahrain.
He says most scientific studies show that bloating and constipation are more common in women, and he assures us he’s not just saying that because he’s a man (ahem!). The reason is one of medicine’s mysteries. It’s normal to have gas in the gastrointestinal tract but the amount of gas is a result of a complex phenomenon that medics don’t yet fully understand.
When feeling bloated, Dr Kenneth advises to avoid foods that are thought to increase gas: legumes, Brussels sprouts, onions, celery, carrots, raisins, bananas, fermentable fibre and complex starches such as wheat and potatoes. Sodas can also increase gas in the stomach. Exercise and correct posture help the clearance of intestinal gases. Some anecdotal reports state that activity (as opposed to resting in a supine position) improves bloating symptoms.
Could chronic gas have a more serious underlying cause? Usually not, says Dr Kenneth, but in rare instances chronic gases can be secondary to some underlying diseases and hence the importance of seeing your doctor if this is an everyday problem.