Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common reason people go to see a gastroenterologist. In Australia, about 8% of the population has IBS. For many people, the chronic and episodic nature of gastrointestinal symptoms can impact on their quality of life. The fluctuating digestive symptoms can leave people with a sense of uncertainty, unpredictability and fear. People with IBS have reported feeling ashamed or embarrassed and distressed about their symptoms. What are digestive disorders?
Common diet-related digestive symptoms include reflux, indigestion, constipation, diarrhoea, bloating and excess gas, distention and pain. If you have any of these symptoms, it is essential to see your doctor and ask for a formal diagnosis of your condition as these symptoms can also occur with other more serious diseases and disorders. The symptoms of IBS (bloating, abdominal pain, altered bowel habits, excess gas, nausea, and incomplete evacuation) can overlap with other conditions, which can result in a misdiagnosis of a more serious disease. Conditions with similar symptoms as IBS include coeliac disease; diverticular disease; pelvic flood disorders; inflammatory bowel disease; endocrine disorders; malabsorption disorders; endometriosis; intestinal cancers; and pancreatic insufficiency. Therefore, the starting point for any digestive symptoms should be an accurate diagnosis from your doctor or gastrointestinal specialist.
What causes digestive disorders?
There are several causes of gastrointestinal symptoms. These include low gastric acid secretion from the stomach and inadequate enzyme secretion from the small intestine and pancreas. Medications that suppress gastric acid secretions can also affect gastric function. Reduced gastric acid can lead to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and food intolerances. Other possible causes include inadequate intake of nutrients; consuming many foods high in additives, preservatives and artificial colours; an attack of gastro or food poisoning; bacterial infection and the overuse of antibiotics. Other lifestyle factors such as stressful events, particularly when combined with inadequate nutrient intakes can increase digestive symptoms; and prolonged high-intensity physical activity can disrupt the balance of the microbiome and result in digestive symptoms. Understanding the causes of gastrointestinal symptoms is required to provide the most appropriate treatment approach to resolve the symptoms.
Treatments for digestive disorders
Our treatment plans start an assessment of your current food and nutritional intakes of nutrients, as insufficient nutrients can reduce digestive function. Essential nutrients include iron, zinc and vitamin A, D, and E, omega-3 fats, and fibre. You may also need a short term specific diet, e.g. low FODMAPS, gluten-free, and dairy-free, to relieve symptoms and to discover if particular foods cause your symptoms. We can prescribe—specific probiotics for IBS that can help to balance gut flora. If stress is a problem, we can advise you on ways to avoid stress or better manage it. High amounts of stress can also contribute to digestive symptoms, as the stress response directly influences gut flora and gut permeability. Digestive symptoms can be complicated and confusing to understand and manage. We aim to help with this complex process to find solutions to help you feel better. If you would like further information on how to improve your symptoms, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
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