Gut Feelings: Gastrointestinal Health
March 2022 Issue
Gut Feelings: Gastrointestinal Health
Keeping our stomachs happy can be a difficult task when large portions, processed foods and eating on-the-go are all lifestyles most people have adopted, especially in the South, where fried foods are preferred. Most of us know when we’ve gone too far with excessive food and drink, waddling to the couch to assume a horizontal position soon after dinner for relief from overeating. But when are stomach issues, which may be caused by more than a stomach-revolting, self-induced food binge, a concern? We had a gut feeling it was time to ask our local experts to tell us more about the importance of gut health and the perils we may experience.
Michael Gilbreath, MD
Hilton Head Regional Healthcare
What is diverticulitis?
The colon, or large intestine, is where fiber and digested food are turned into stools. Over time, small pouches called diverticula can develop in the lining of the colon wall, especially in the sigmoid colon. The condition of having these sacs in the colon is called diverticular disease.
The disease occurs when stools become hard due to constipation, requiring the colon to exert more effort to push the stools along. The presence of diverticula is known as diverticulosis, and when one or more pouches become inflamed, or in some cases infected, this condition is known as diverticulitis. Diverticulitis can cause severe abdominal pain, fever, nausea and change in bowel habits.
It seems colon cancer is becoming more prevalent among younger adults. What are the guidelines for colonoscopies, and what can I do to prevent colon cancer?
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. We want you to know more about the third most common cancer in the U.S. Did you know that colorectal cancer is more common among those over 50 and the risk increases as we age? If you are over 50, talk to your doctor about scheduling a colorectal cancer screening.
This year nearly 137,000 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed. The good news about colorectal cancer is that screenings are finding the cancer in early, more treatable stages. Today we have more than 1 million colorectal cancer survivors in the United States.
Polyps, which are abnormal growths in the colon, can be removed during a colonoscopy. This can prevent them from becoming cancerous. It is recommended to have a colonoscopy every 10 years starting at age 50. Some authorities are now recommending screenings at age 45.
If you want to reduce your risk for colorectal cancer, eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, stop smoking and limit your alcohol consumption.
Colorectal cancer is highly treatable, but it is important to find it in the early, more treatable stages. Talk to your doctor today about getting your colonoscopy and colorectal cancer screening.
Michael Gilbreath, MD Medical School: University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago Internship and Residency: Barnes Hospital, St. Louis, Missouri Fellowship: Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis Board Certifications: Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology
James F. Gigante, MD
How can I tell the difference between heartburn and reflux?
Heartburn and reflux aren't really two different things. Your esophagus is just behind your heart and goes up toward the back of your throat. When stomach acid backs up, it can go up through the esophagus and into your throat. When it sits low in the esophagus, that can cause the heartburn feeling. But, those heartburn symptoms don't always mean acid reflux! Sometimes they are indicative of underlying cardiac issues. You can avoid the feeling of heartburn by drinking plenty of fluids, cutting back on spicy foods and avoiding drinks like alcohol and coffee, among other things. You can also try eating smaller meals, or eating earlier in the day so you are not going to bed within three hours of eating. There are a number of atypical symptoms of acid reflux such as cough, hoarse voice and worsened asthma. If you are experiencing any symptoms that may be heartburn, please see your physician to rule out anything more serious.
James F. Gigante, MD is a Board Certified doctor of Internal Medicine and a fellow with the American College of Physicians. He has been practicing medicine for 25 years, the last 17 here in the Lowcountry. 843-681-2222; 35 Bill Fries Drive, Bldg H, HHI.
Dr. Richard Stewart
Beaufort Memorial Lowcountry Medical Group
How can I tell if my constipation/diarrhea is a symptom of Irritable bowel syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a very common disorder. Unfortunately, it is described as a “diagnosis of exclusion” as there is no specific stool, blood or radiographic study that can tell someone they definitely have IBS. As a result, other possible causes need to be eliminated prior to labeling someone with irritable bowel syndrome.
A list of other disorders that may masquerade as IBS is broad and beyond the scope of this response. However, symptoms that should prompt an evaluation (but may indicate a diagnosis other than IBS) include: Age of onset after 50 years; rectal bleeding; nocturnal diarrhea; worsening abdominal pain; unexplained weight loss; and a family history of inflammatory bowel disease or colon cancer.
The most common criteria for irritable bowel defines it as a recurrent abdominal pain, on average, at least one day per week over the last three months, associated with two or more of the following: Related to defecation; associated with change in stool frequency; and associated with a change in stool form appearance.
Richard Stewart, D.O., is a Beaufort Memorial board-certified gastroenterologist. A graduate of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Dr. Stewart sees patients at the Lowcountry Medical Group in both Beaufort and Okatie. He can be reached at 843-770-0404.
by Dr. Robyn Odzark
Beaufort Memorial Express Care
How can I tell if my stomach pain is serious or not? What could it mean?
We all get an occasional stomach ache, oftentimes caused by something we ate, or ate too much of. This pain, as well as discomfort caused by heartburn or a stomach flu, typically goes away on its own. But if pain or digestive symptoms persist more than a couple of weeks, becomes progressively more severe, or are accompanied by other symptoms, it could be a sign of more serious issues.
Pay attention to these red flags and talk to your provider if you are experiencing any of these symptoms:
> Abdominal pain, often accompanied by nausea and vomiting
> Loss of appetite
> Low-grade fever
These symptoms could be caused by appendicitis, especially if the pain becomes concentrated in the right lower aspect of the stomach. Left untreated, it could lead to life-threatening complications, including a ruptured appendix, which requires emergency surgery to remove the appendix.
Kidney stones also can cause pain that radiates to the lower abdomen and groin. The pain may shift to a different location, or increase in intensity, as the stone moves through the urinary tract.
Symptoms vary by condition, but people with gallbladder disease may experience sharp pain on the right side of the abdomen, especially after eating a fatty meal. Heartburn, indigestion, gas, excessive diarrhea, nausea and abdominal tenderness are also common.
Burning stomach pain, heartburn, nausea and bloating, may all be symptoms of an ulcer. If the pain returns after taking over-the-counter antacids and acid blockers, see your doctor.
If you’re experiencing frequent or worsening heartburn, you could have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Other symptoms of GERD include difficulty swallowing and regurgitation of food or sour liquid. GERD can lead to more serious problems, so it should be treated by your physician.
Robyn Odzark, D.O., is a board-certified family medicine physician with Beaufort Memorial Express Care and Occupational Health in Okatie. She can be reached at (843) 706-8840.