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Take Steps to Get Rid of the Pain in Your Gut

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Last Sunday afternoon, during the biggest sporting event of the year, many people pushed their bodies to the limit—not playing football but eating piles of nachos, pigs in a blanket, dips, desserts and drinks. If you were one of those, you may have woken up on Monday morning with a very unpleasant feeling in your stomach.

It’s easy to upset your digestive system when you eat too much of the wrong types of food. Those problems usually get better on their own or with a little help from over-the-counter medicines. For some people, however, abdominal problems go beyond the occasional upset stomach. It may be some sort of pain—anything from sharp pain to a duller, overall pain. Others experience ongoing heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, an uncomfortable feeling of fullness or other nagging symptoms.

The particular types of food you eat may play a role in digestive problems. Some studies have shown that food allergies—such as reaction to lactose or gluten—can make digestive issues worse. A change of diet can often help in these situations.

Another example of how food can create abdominal issues is the sudden addition of a significant amount of fiber to your diet. Fiber is great because it can decrease your risk of colon cancer, regulate bowel movements and give you a sense of fullness, which can help you lose weight. However, if you start eating a lot of high-fiber food—such as certain vegetables, cereals, breads and so forth—you may experience bloating, gas and other issues while your body adjusts. It’s better, therefore, to add fiber to your diet a little at a time.

Often, you may get relief from occasional digestive issues with over-the-counter remedies. If you’re having trouble with heartburn and/or acid reflux, for instance, an acid reducer may make you feel better. A laxative might help with constipation or bloating low in your abdomen.

Indigestion and bloating can also sometimes be resolved with a probiotic, which contains beneficial, live bacteria that help to restore balance to your digestive system. The only challenge is that supplements like probiotics are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so it’s sometimes difficult to know which brands are effective and which are a waste of money. If you have questions about probiotics or any other over-the-counter medications, talk with your doctor or with a pharmacist where you shop.

Abdominal issues that last longer than two weeks are considered chronic. If you’re not improving by then with your home remedy, it’s probably time to make an appointment to see your doctor.

A word of caution: If you experience any “alarm symptoms,” don’t try treating them on your own. Instead, either go to an emergency room or urgent care, or make an appointment to see your doctor immediately, depending on how severe the symptoms are. These alarm symptoms include such things as bleeding from your rectum; sudden, unintentional weight loss; and severe abdominal pain that doesn’t go away.

Your primary care doctor may choose to treat your abdominal issues or may refer you to a gastroenterologist—a specialist in digestive medicine. When you meet with your doctor, be prepared to be patient. He or she may be able to pinpoint the source of your problem quickly; however in many cases, it can take a while. Finding the cause of abdominal pain can be very challenging because dozens of different diseases can cause the same symptoms.

A good description of the type of pain you’re experiencing, when you feel it and where it’s located can usually help your doctor narrow down the source of your problem. You may need to undergo tests, either at your doctor’s office or at a facility like the GI Lab at Simi Valley Hospital. In some cases, the actual cause of your abdominal issues may not be able to be determined. In those situations, your doctor will be able to treat your symptoms to help you feel better.

We all have a digestive issue now and then, but if you’ve been dealing with abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, bloating or other problems for a while, your doctor will likely be able to help you get relief.

Robert Moghimi, MD, is a board-certified gastroenterologist in Simi Valley and a member of the Simi Valley Hospital medical staff.