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Upset stomach: How to keep it from upsetting you

Your day can easily be ruined by gastrointestinal woes, be it acid reflux, constipation, or simply an upset stomach that won’t let you enjoy a meal. The Makati Medical Center (MakatiMed), the Philippines’ premier healthcare institution, tells us what we need to know about our gastrointestinal or digestive system, and some tips to keep it healthy. 

“Some of the most common digestive-tract disorders we encounter are gastroenteritis, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or acid-reflux disease, peptic ulcer, diarrhea, and constipation,” said Ernesto Olympia MD, head of MakatiMed’s Endoscopy Unit.

Acid reflux is a condition in which acid backs up from the stomach into the esophagus. At times, it even reaches the throat, causing pain in the chest called heartburn, or the sensation of a lump in the throat. Heartburn may be mistaken for a heart attack.

Peptic ulcers are wounds or sores found in the stomach and duodenum. It can be caused by excessive acid; infection by a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori; and intake of substances damaging to the lining of the digestive tract, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, alcohol, or some antibiotics. If left untreated, ulcers can cause internal bleeding.

“Gastroenteritis presenting with diarrhea and abdominal pain is common in a tropical country like ours and may affect all ages,” Dr. Olympia said. “An infectious organism is the most common cause; others are food allergy and intake of some substances (that irritate) the gut. Alteration of bowel pattern in elderly individuals should alert the physician to rule out diverticular disease (development of an abnormal bulge in the wall of the intestinal tract) and, more important, new colonic growth or colon cancer.”

People suffering from inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) may experience abdominal pain, diarrhea, and sometimes anemia and rectal bleeding. IBD is rare in Asia, but an increasing incidence of it is being seen, and is being blamed on the impact of westernization, according to Dr. Olympia.

How do we avoid all these and keep our digestive tract healthy? It’s simple: we need to eat well.

“Since the digestive tract is the food portal of the body, we must make sure that everything we digest is healthy, preferably fresh and not processed, and not rich in unsaturated fat and excess sugar,” Dr. Olympia said.

The food we eat not only nourishes our body, keeps the repair on par with the breakdown of tissues, and provides sustenance for the build-up of our immune system, but also plays a significant role in maintaining the equilibrium between the host and the trillions of microorganisms in our body called the microbiota, without which we would not surive.

“Make sure to have a balanced diet of carbohydrates, proteins, fibers, fruits, vegetables, or what we’re taught in school as ‘go, grow, and glow’ food. Drink an ample amount of water. It’s also best to avoid smoking, and if one enjoys alcohol, then the advice is to use it in moderation. Exercise is also very essential in maintaining our health. It should be ingrained in our lifestyle,” he said.

Dr. Olympia also said to be aware not only of your food intake, but also the medications you take, as this can also cause trauma to the digestive track and liver. A good example is the use of painkillers. They can irritate the lining of the stomach and intestines, leading to ulcer formation and even serious bleeding.

“Acetaminophen, which is present in some painkillers, is safe at the right dose,” he added. “But taking too much acetaminophen can cause damage to your liver. Please do not self-medicate and consult with a doctor to know the correct dosage for you.”

“If you develop symptoms that impair or disturb your lifestyle, consult a doctor immediately,” Dr. Olympia said. “Digestive-tract disorders may be as simple as bloating, constipation or acidity, but these cannot be dismissed. Being aware and being advised appropriately will be very beneficial to your health.”

For those in need of medical services, the MakatiMed Endoscopy Unit is a modern facility offering gastrointestinal endoscopy and colonoscopy procedures which evaluate the esophagus, stomach and the large intestine.

“Colonoscopy is an endoscopic procedure that allows us to look for growth or polyps, which are potential for cancer transformation. We also observe for sources of anemia, bleeding, inflammation, infection or growth that can cause obstruction,” Dr. Olympia said.

He also said the recommended age for a colonoscopy procedure is 50 according to international guidelines.

“When a person decides to have a colonoscopy, he should first see a gastroenterologist who will explain to him or her the whole procedure, the procedure’s benefits, and its risks,” Dr. Olympia said. He added that if you are 50 years old and older, you will also need clearance from a cardiologist before undergoing the procedure.

“An upset stomach—or an unhealthy gastrointestinal system—can definitely make you upset, or worse, cause damage to your other bodily functions. Avoid this by eating right and getting checked regularly,” he said.

For more information, the call MakatiMed On-Call at (632) 888-8999, send an email to mmc@makatimed.net.ph, or visit www.makatimed.net.ph.

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