Don't just belly ache… there may be a simple solution to your digestive system
21:46 GMT, 17 March 2012
A third of us regularly suffer from
digestive problems, whether stomach ache, uncomfortable bloating or
difficulties going to the loo. Often, they are temporary conditions or
can be changed through diet and exercise or medication.
However, the symptoms can often be
distressing – as US model Tyra Banks discovered when she suffered with
the host of digestive problems that irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can
Here, with the help of Michael Mendall, consultant
gastroenterologist at BMI Shirley Oaks and Croydon University
hospitals, Surrey, we outline the most common complaints and what can be
US Supermodel Tyra Banks has battled with bowel problems
THE SYMPTOM A feeling of fullness, discomfort and the stomach may look rounded. Up to 30 per cent of the population are affected, with women more prone.
WHAT CAUSES IT It might be gut bacteria producing more gas. Or it could be caused by swallowing air if you eat too fast or don’t chew food properly. The spine can create space in the abdomen according to posture – so stand up straight and you are less likely to be bloated.
WHAT YOU CAN DO Bread and wheat may trigger bloating. This doesn’t meant that you have coeliac disease – we all have different degrees of difficulty in digesting fibre and starch.
If you think this is the cause, eat less starchy food (including bread and pasta) and make sure you don’t overeat. Exercise improves the speed at which things go through the gut.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP If you lose weight or suffer vomiting. The worst-case scenario is that it could be an intestinal blockage, which may indicate stomach or pancreatic cancer.
If you’re over 50 and develop bloating, see your doctor if it doesn’t go away within three weeks.
THE SYMPTOM A tight, localised pain in the lower abdomen that can last for minutes or prolonged periods. This is usually the result of the bowels going into spasm.
WHAT CAUSES IT If it lasts for a day or less, it is likely to be a reaction to something eaten: spicy food, or an intolerance to, say, dairy products.
WHAT YOU CAN DO Steer clear of foods that may trigger these pains. Remedies include peppermint oil capsules.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP Stomach problems can be caused by stress. However, if you are in great pain see a GP as appendicitis may start with cramps, which become specific to the right-hand side.
They can also be a symptom of IBS, or indicative of serious intestinal diseases such as Crohn’s or colitis. If you are over 50 and suffer from stomach pains for a couple of weeks, get them checked out, especially if you lose weight, vomit or have diarrhoea.
THE SYMPTOM Expelling air.
WHAT CAUSES IT Belching is swallowed air coming back up again. At the other end it can be caused by a change in diet or one high in fibre.
WHAT YOU CAN DO Steer clear of eating too many high-fibre foods such as beans and lentils. Fizzy drinks can also be a culprit. Activated charcoal or peppermint oil products may help.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP If you suffer wind in conjunction with other symptoms such as vomiting.
Tyra before and after she tackled her IBS
THE SYMPTOMS A sensation of discomfort in the upper stomach and the urge to vomit sometimes coupled with loss of appetite.
WHAT CAUSES IT It is more common in women due to the sex hormone oestrogen which affects the link between the brain and stomach. Can be a manifestation of anxiety, a feature of acid reflux, an ulcer, or a side effect of medication. If intermittent, it is unlikely to be serious.
WHAT YOU CAN DO Don’t eat too much, and try not to get stressed. Travel sickness tablets and anti-nausea medications can help. Bear in mind it’s the first sign of pregnancy.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP If you have the odd episode and then feel OK it is unlikely to have a serious cause.
THE SYMPTOM Some people say they are constipated if they strain to go to the loo but medically it is classified by frequency. It is normal to open your bowels three times a week or more.
WHAT CAUSES IT Constipation can be down to food not travelling quickly enough through the colon or problems in expelling. It can also be a side effect of prescription drugs for blood pressure or painkillers. Women who have had children can suffer due to a weak pelvic floor. The digestive tract also becomes less efficient with age.
WHAT YOU CAN DO Eat a high- fibre diet, exercise and drink plenty of water. There are also laxatives and a behavioural technique called bio-feedback.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP If you are going less than once a week and passing blood or in pain, or if there has been a recent change for more than three weeks.
THE SYMPTOMS Loose bowel motions and having to go to the loo more than three times a day.
WHAT CAUSES IT Every day five litres of water pass through the colon, which reabsorbs it into the body. If there is something wrong, the colon won’t do this properly.
WHAT YOU CAN DO Try to take in fluids. Cola is one way of rehydrating and getting sugar into the system. You could take a product such as Dioralyte.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP Diarrhoea and constipation alternating may be IBS which, as the model Tyra Banks confirmed, is unpleasant, but can be overcome. If it continues for three weeks and there is bleeding, see a doctor.