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Stomach Problems Plague Americans

When I hear the words “stomach problems” I immediately envision the awkward and, in my opinion, obnoxious Pepto-Bismol commercial with the jingle that goes something like: ”Nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach …” - you can sing the rest.

If there’s one thing the people at Pepto-Bismol did right with their jingle, aside from positioning their pink, creamy product as the wonder remedy, it’s to talk about - with humor -embarrassing digestive issues that plague many Americans.

But what if that rumble in your tummy is more than occasional indigestion brought on by something you ate or an ugly accompaniment to the stomach flu? You might find yourself explaining increasing episodes of gas or bloating as “just something I ate.” That is, until it happens again, and again, and again - and it dawns on you that you’ve got a recurring and potentially embarrassing problem.

Chronic stomach and digestive disorders can be serious. Healthcare providers warn: Pay attention to what your stomach is telling you.

The American College of Gastroenterology reports that 95 million Americans experience some kind of digestive problem in their lifetime and over 10 million of them are hospitalized each year for these problems.

According to experts, stomach ailments are not as easy to diagnose as matching your symptoms to a commercial or online diagnosis. The average consumer could think they have one ailment, when it’s really a more complex problem.

Before you decide to invest in a lifetime supply of Pepto-Bismol, listen to what doctors have to say about stomach issues they treat regularly.

The blame game - the American diet

There’s nothing natural about what many Americans are ingesting on a daily basis, and it is wreaking havoc on their digestive tracts.

One of the biggest culprits behind many Americans’ tummy troubles is the standard American diet (SAD), often chock-full of lardy fast food cuisine and processed foods containing artificial colorings and preservatives that are foreign to the body.

Dr. Mark Stengler, known as America's Natural Physician, blames poor diet as one of the main causes of digestive disorders. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Mark Stengler, La Jolla Whole Health Clinic)
Mark Stengler, NMD, is a naturopathic medical doctor and founder of La Jolla Whole Health Clinic. He regularly sees patients with persistent stomach ailments, most commonly acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and constipation. Stengler blames the standard American diet as the main offender, but says there are other common tummy triggers.

“Higher consumption of alcohol and caffeine, an elevated stress level and the overuse of antibiotics and antacid medications can also affect the digestive tract,” said Stengler, known as America’s Natural Physician and author of the bestseller The Natural Physician’s Healing Therapies: Proven Remedies that Medical Doctors Don’t Know. “Chronic use of antibiotics can shun the digestive tract of good bacteria necessary to break down food and other nutrients.”

Stengler also says overusing antacid medications is like covering a wound with a band-aid; you may not be treating the root of the digestive problem. He adds that excessive use of antacid medications can deplete your digestive system of acid needed to break down foods, especially proteins required for muscle function.

Getting to the “gut” of the problem

Sometimes trying to pinpoint the cause of your stomach problems is as likely as finding a needle in a haystack. You may have tried to research your ailment online only to find yourself buried in information about hundreds of digestive disorders - all with symptoms similar to yours.

Elizabeth Salada, M.D., sees her fair share of patients with digestive disorders at her Poway-based practice. Common ailments range from chronic constipation and diarrhea to gastritis (an inflammation of the lining of the stomach) and acid reflux, commonly associated with overweight patients whose excess weight puts pressure on the esophagus. She warns against self-medicating if symptoms are constant.

“Usually if symptoms persist more than 24 hours, if pain is severe or you develop a fever, feel extremely dehydrated and can’t keep fluids down, then you may require immediate medical attention,” said Salada, who is board certified in internal medicine. “Whatever you do, don’t self-medicate and go weeks without medical attention.”

Stengler adds that if you notice yourself getting sick often, it could be the sign of a bigger issue.

“Much of your immune activity comes from the ‘gut,’ so if you’re getting sick regularly you may have a digestive problem,” said Stengler. “If you don’t have a healthy digestive system, you can’t absorb nutrients properly that are necessary for heart, brain and other essential immunity functions.”

Here are some of the most commonly diagnosed intestinal and digestive disorders and their symptoms. Please note: this information is not to self-diagnose, but to offer some added insight. You will want to consult a health care provider to perform a physical exam, review your medical history and offer a diagnosis. Visit or to find information on these and other chronic digestive disorders.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) - a commonly diagnosed disorder of the intestines. Symptoms: stomach pain, constipation or diarrhea, bloating, mucus in the stools and a constant feeling that you need to go even after a bowel movement.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) or heartburn - a condition in which acidic liquid in the stomach is regurgitated into the esophagus. Symptoms: burning feeling in the throat or chest accompanied by chest pain, difficulty swallowing and feeling of food stuck in the chest or throat.
Peptic ulcer (”gastric ulcer”) - occurs when acidic, digestive liquid in the stomach corrodes the stomach lining. One of the main causes of ulcers is the constant use of anti-inflammatory medications. Symptoms: burning pain in the stomach, heartburn, nausea and in severe cases, dark or black stool or vomiting blood.
Celiac disease - a digestive and autoimmune disorder in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged when foods containing gluten are eaten. Gluten is a protein found in most grains like rye, wheat and barley. Symptoms: bloating, gas, diarrhea, weight loss, dermatitis, muscle cramps, seizures and for women, missed periods.
Chron’s disease - a chronic inflammatory disease of the intestines, often causing ulcers in the small and large intestines. The cause is unknown and currently there is no medical cure. Symptoms (depending on the location of the disease): abdominal pain, diarrhea and weight loss, with less common symptoms including fever, lack of appetite, night sweats, rectal pain and bleeding.
Lactose intolerance - a condition in which the body is unable to digest lactose, a natural sugar found in milk and other dairy products. This occurs when the small intestine doesn’t produce enough of the enzyme lactase needed to break down lactose. Symptoms: bloating, gas and belly pain.
Colon cancer - cancer of the large intestine and the second leading cause of death in men and women. Salada describes colon cancer as the silent disease because its symptoms are numerous and nonspecific: fatigue, change in bowel habits, diarrhea or constipation, red or dark blood in stool, weight loss and more.

Exploring IBS - a waste basket diagnosis?

According to the American Medical Association, irritable bowel syndrome is thought to affect as many as one in five people, making it one of the most common disorders seen by physicians. It begins before age 35 in about 50 percent of cases and occurs more often in women than men, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.

With IBS, the intestines can contract too hard or not hard enough and cause food to move either too rapidly or slowly through the intestines. However, IBS can often be over-diagnosed because its symptoms are similar to those of other conditions, often causing doctors to overlook the real cause of the problem.

According to Stengler, IBS is an often generalized - or what he calls “waste basket” - diagnosis.

“You could put 30 percent of the population in the IBS category, but that diagnosis doesn’t tell you about a person’s specific digestive problems,” said Dr. Stengler. ”Food sensitivity, gluten or dairy allergies, poor digestive function and fungal overgrowth from prescription medications are all factors.”

Eastern and western medical practitioners don’t always agree, but with IBS they do. Salada calls IBS a “diagnosis of exclusion.” She will rule everything else out first before making an IBS diagnosis.

“I will order lab tests, ultrasounds, even a colonoscopy in the most serious cases,” said Salada, who says a colonoscopy is the gold standard for colon cancer screening. “If all tests come back negative, then I will diagnose a patient with IBS.”

There is relief for the weary

Popping extra antacids can actually harm your digestive health.
Occasional stomach problems can often be solved with over-the-counter medicines and lifestyle changes.

“If you’ve been to the doctor and all serious digestive problems have been ruled out but occasional symptoms persist, then it’s time to look at your lifestyle,” said Salada. “Go back to the basics in your diet and eat less processed foods, salt and fat. Exercise and relaxation techniques will also help eliminate stress that can trigger many stomach ailments.”

If you suffer from chronic stomach pain and temporary remedies have ceased to work, consult your health care provider - whether it’s a naturopathic physician, medical doctor, gastroenterologist (who specializes in gastrointestinal tract disorders) or a nutritionist - to get tested for a serious digestive problem.

Whatever health care path you choose, it’s worth looking into a persistent stomach disorder to help get your tummy back in order.

Source: San Diego News Network: Jan 12, 2010


By Mortin - Copyright 2010
Last modification 05/02/2010