How to Stop Stomach Distress Now
If just thinking about stomach problems makes your stomach hurt, you’re not alone. That’s because stomach trouble is, by definition, unspecific, and an ache in the tummy could indicate anything from stress to too much spicy food at dinner to a serious medical problem.
“The layperson says, ‘My stomach hurts,’ but that doesn’t really mean anything,” says Dr. Paula Dionisio, Gastroenterologist at Parkview Medical Group. Even the term “stomach” can mean anything from the lower gastrointestinal tract to the upper abdomen (which is technically what the stomach is), so the first step is narrowing down the site of your discomfort.
As the Stomach Turns
In general, men and women suffer from upper abdominal ailments in equal numbers, but women are more prone to lower abdominal complaints, says Dr. Dionisio.
The less vague you can be about your symptoms and the actions that may have triggered them, the better your physician will be able to tell whether your condition is something that warrants medical tests, or whether it could be improved by basic changes, such as eating more fiber and drinking more water.
To get a clear pattern of the ups and downs of your stomach distress, Dr. Dionisio, suggests keeping a log or journal of your symptoms, your diet and what you did to try to alleviate the problem. Then, take a look at some of the most frequent complaints of stomach distress and what you ought to do if you experience them.
Constipation is more common in women, particularly during pregnancy and menstruation and as you age. If your symptoms aren’t extreme, Dr. Dionisio recommends eating 25 grams of fiber per day and drinking plenty of water. (This is a lot of fiber for most people, she adds, and may require taking a supplement, not just eating fruits and vegetables). One out of three patients he sees experiences big improvement thanks to just those small steps, says Dr. Dionisio.
Cramps and Pain
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects 10 to 20 percent of the general population, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. Also called spastic colon, mucous colitis, spastic colitis, nervous stomach or irritable colon, IBS often results in abdominal pain and changes in bowel patterns. Sometimes diverticulosis, a disease caused by small pouches in the colon that bulge outward, is confused with IBS. Diverticulosis becomes more common as patients age. In fact, the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse estimates that 50 percent of people over age 60 have diverticulosis, although it is often asymptomatic.
Often combined with cramps and pain, diarrhea can be a symptom of IBS. But it can also be aggravated by stress, particularly in women, says Dr. Dionisio. To reduce the incidence of diarrhea, cut back on your consumption of fatty and greasy foods. Some people have had success taking probiotic supplements (with live bacteria that are beneficial to the stomach) or eating more yogurt, which naturally contains flora-producing probiotics.
Medical treatment usually isn’t necessary if your symptoms are infrequent, but Dr. Dionisio recommends routine colorectal cancer screening at age 50 for everyone, and immediately if there is blood in the stool
If you have heartburn--also known as reflux--once in a while, it’s generally nothing to worry about, according to Dr. Dionisio. Moderate exercise and cutting back on caffeine and nicotine may nip the problem in the bud. But if reflux happens repeatedly, meaning several times per week, or many weeks in a row, you may want to talk to your physician about prescription and over-the-counter drugs to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In addition to medication, Dr. Dionisio advises patients with reflux not to lie down after they eat. If your reflux is accompanied by vomiting blood or dramatic weight loss, you should see your doctor right away for tests to rule out cancer or other serious illnesses.
Sometimes the burning that comes from having an ulcer--essentially a hole in the gastrointestinal tract--is confused with heartburn. But ulcers are also marked by changes in appetite and weight loss, while GERD and other causes of heartburn don’t share those two symptoms. Stomach ulcers, also called peptic ulcers, can be caused by stress, smoking and over-use of medication such as aspirin. If you suspect an ulcer, we are here for you.
Paula Dionisio, MD
Dr. Paula Dionisio, a Pueblo native and graduate of Central High School, graduated magna cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in 3 years before attending Georgetown University School of Medicine. Dr. Dionisio then completed her Internal Medicine Residency and Gastroenterology Fellowship at the esteemed Mayo Clinic.
Lirio S. Polintan, MD
Specialties: Gastroenterology and Internal Medicine
Dr. Lirio S. Polintan has been practicing in Pueblo since 1981. Dr. Polintan is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology and is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians; American College of Gastroenterology, and American Gastroenterological Association. He is also a member of the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.
Charles Ruzkowski, MD
Dr. Chuck Ruzkowski attended Chicago Medical School, Loyola University Medical Center, and the University of Arizona. He has held academic appointments at the University of Arizona and the University of Iowa. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology and has over 15 years of endoscocpic and practice experience.
Barbara Niven, PA-C
Barbara Niven is a certifed Physician Assistant with extensive experience in caring for patients with gastroenterology disorders. She has a special focus on treating patients diagnosed with Hepatitis-C and helping them to understand their treatment options and pathways.