Gastro issues such as gas, indigestion, heartburn and changes in bowel habits are common in men. These disorders are often minor that resolve with lifestyle modification and/or medication. However, sometimes there may be serious underlying disease.
Gas is the probably the most common complaint encountered by gastroenterologists in clinical practice. However, it must be understood that most of the patients complaining of gas actually do not have excess of gas in the abdomen, and their symptoms are largely subjective. A healthy gastrointestinal tract contains about 200 ml of gas. Patients with belching may have increased gas in stomach contributed mainly by air-swallowing. The excessive passage of gas via anus is usually caused by bacterial fermentation of unabsorbed substances in the intestine. Foods like whole grains, beans, sprouts, cabbage contain a complex sugar called raffinose, which can trigger formation of excess gas. Starches, like potatoes and pasta can also contribute to gas. Fruits containing sorbitol or fructose can worsen gas. People with lactose intolerance may experience gas from eating milk, and other dairy products. Dietary modification and reassurance remain the mainstay treatment for gas.
The word ‘indigestion’ is medically synonymous with dyspepsia. It encompasses a broad spectrum of symptoms that include upper abdominal pain or discomfort, fullness of abdomen after meal, and early satiety. Most of the time, specific cause for indigestion is not found, and hence this condition is termed as “functional dyspepsia”. However, some of the patients with indigestion may have serious disorder such as stomach cancer. These high risk patients are often identified by “alarm features” which are progressive weight loss, loss of appetite, recurrent vomiting, anaemia, blood in stool, blackish discoloration of stool etc. Dietary factors may be a potential cause of indigestion symptoms. Fatty foods, spices, alcohol, chocolate, citrus fruits, and fish have been linked to indigestion.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease results in heartburn which may be accompanied by a sour taste in the mouth, or increased salivation, or nausea particularly at night. There is a long list of food items that seem to trigger heartburn. These include alcohol, citrus fruits, carbonated beverages, chocolates, coffee, mint, and fatty or spicy foods. Heartburn can be prevented by avoiding food items mentioned above, eating a small dinner, eating 2 hours before going to bed, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding exercise right after a meal. Treatment options include drugs that reduce acid levels.
Irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder in which abdominal pain or cramping is associated with diarrhoea, constipation or both. When evaluating patients with IBS, one should be alert for red flag symptoms, such as rectal bleeding, anemia and weight loss. A careful evaluation must be done to rule out other specific conditions, such as food intolerance, celiac disease, bacterial overgrowth, tuberculosis, colitis and even colonic cancer. The management of IBS is directed toward symptom relief and include dietary modification, fibre supplements, drugs, and psychotherapy. Diet containing low fermentable carbohydrates and polyols, such as fructose containing fruits, honey, dairy products, garlic, onion, wheat, beans, lentils, and artificial sweeteners may benefit patients.
Constipation is a common problem particularly in elderly people. Constipation may be due to slowness of colonic movement or obstruction during passage of stool. Constipation may be caused by insufficient dietary fiber intake, inadequate fluid intake, decreased physical activity, side effects of medications, or thyroid problem. Certain drugs used in the treatment of blood pressure, depression, heart problems may cause constipation. Constipation can be avoided through regular exercise, proper hydration, and a diet high in fibres from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Treatment includes laxatives, enema and biofeedback therapy.
If you are experiencing any of the above mentioned, it is best recommended that you consult a specialist – a Gastroenterologist at the earliest. Ignoring your ailments can affect your quality of life and lead to further complications. The most important aspect to note is that if you are suffering from a gastro ailment for a long time and none of the over the counter medication is helping you, you should definitely see a specialist at the earliest.