Follow Your Heart to Good Health: Heart Disease & Stroke
March 2022 Issue
Gut Feelings: Gastrointestinal Health
by Sarah Yeskel, PA-C
At some point everyone experiences digestive problems such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, nausea or vomiting. This is often a temporary inconvenience caused by too much ice cream, beer or chicken wings. However, when symptoms persist, it may be a sign of an underlying problem that needs serious medical attention. 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 expert to tell us more about the importance of gut health and the perils we may experience.
How can I know if my constipation/diarrhea is a symptom of Irritable bowel syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition that causes abdominal pain and altered bowel habits. There is no specific test for IBS, rather it is considered a diagnosis of exclusion. Thus, if you have symptoms, you should speak with your health care provider. By answering some simple questions and running a few tests, often the diagnosis can be made. There are many other medical conditions that can cause constipation and diarrhea; therefore, it is essential to have an evaluation to rule out other causes before a diagnosis of IBS is made.
How can you tell the difference between heartburn and reflux?
Heartburn is a burning sensation in the chest, sometimes rising to the throat and often occurs after a meal. Reflux or regurgitation is when stomach contents (acid mixed with bits of undigested food) flow back into your mouth or throat. In some people, acid reflux causes bothersome symptoms, or injury to the esophagus over time. When this happens, it is considered gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Certain lifestyle and dietary changes can often help relieve symptoms of GERD, including weight loss, raising the head of your bed, quitting smoking, avoiding laying down for two hours after eating and removing specific foods from your diet which may be contributing to reflux, including caffeine, chocolate and alcohol. If you do not have improvement with these changes, or your symptoms are more serious, you should speak with your health care provider who can recommend therapies and/or order additional testing.
How can I tell if my stomach pain is serious or not? What could it mean?
Pain is one way our bodies react to a stimulus, and it is subjective, varying from patient to patient. Pain can be a symptom of a minor problem, or signify a life-threatening condition; however, there is no single test to diagnose all abdominal pain, thus it is imperative to seek medical attention for any new-onset abdominal pain.
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?
The guidelines were recently updated to recommend that all adults undergo colorectal cancer screening beginning at age 45 or earlier, depending on their individual risk. This change from the previously recommended age of 50 is based on the alarming trend of increasing numbers of patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer at a younger age. The choice of which screening test depends on the individual patient and their risk factors. Screening aims to identify cancer at an early more treatable stage and to prevent cancer by identifying and treating abnormal precancerous growths before they become malignant. You can reduce your risk of colon cancer with regular exercise, improving your diet, cutting back on alcohol and quitting smoking.
What is diverticulitis and how do I know if I’m at risk for it?
A diverticulum is a pouch-like weakening in the wall of the colon. The presence of diverticulum is called diverticulosis, and this is often found incidentally during procedures. For most people, diverticulosis will never cause problems or symptoms. However, a percentage of people with diverticulosis can develop diverticulitis at some point, which is when a diverticulum becomes inflamed. Your risk of diverticular disease increases with age. Increasing fiber in your diet may help to prevent the development of diverticulosis and diverticulitis.
Sarah Yeskel, PA-C, Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-Gastroenterology Sarah is a Physician Assistant and alumna of Dickinson College and Emory University. She joined Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-Gastroenterology in January of 2022, after practicing in Atlanta for several years. She sees patients in the new office in the SGHS Outpatient Care Center, 2500 Starling Street, Ste. 506, Brunswick.