Digestive Health

Updated 03 March 2016

Preventing digestive disorders

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Surgery could be a possibility in some serious cases where there are structural or functional problems in the digestive system.

There are however some general rules that everyone should stick to in order to prevent problems with their digestive health, or to minimise the severity of symptoms of digestive disorders.

Here’s what a few different experts have to say on the topic.

Know your family history. If there is a family history of certain digestive disorders, be on the lookout for tell-tale symptoms. You are at a higher risk of getting  certain conditions, for instance gallstones, if there is a family history of it, says the National Institutes of Health. Many other diseases, such as colorectal cancer and Crohn’s Disease also seem to run in families. It doesn’t mean that you will definitely get it, but you are at higher risk than the rest of the population.

Call in professional help. Don’t self-diagnose when it comes to digestive problems or suspected food allergies. Read more about allergy vs. intolerance. It’s one thing having a runny tummy for a day and quite another having abdominal pain lasting for weeks. See medical professionals and find out exactly what is wrong with you and what treatment options are available. Early diagnosis always makes treatment easier. Self-treatment based on self-diagnosis can be downright dangerous as there are so many different digestive disorders.

Maintain your weight. Obesity increases your chances of having certain digestive disorders says the American College of Gastroenterology. These can include GORD, gallstones, pancreatic cancer, colon cancer and several liver diseases. It also mentions that common gastro-intestinal diseases are two to three times more common in obese people than in people who are of normal weight. Read more about obesity and diseases.

Eat a high-fibre healthy diet. If cereals and grains cause bloating, you should consider getting your fibre from fruit and vegetables, says the UK National Health System. Fibre can prevent constipation and contributes to a well-functioning digestive system. It is also essential to drink enough water, as dehydration is a real danger with many digestive diseases. Sufficient water intake also helps prevent constipation.

Learn to cope with stress. There is a direct link between acute and chronic stress and gastro-intestinal disorders, according to the journal Gut. And it certainly is not just in the mind. Learning to cope with stress can definitely help to prevent or alleviate some digestive disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, GORD and peptic ulcer disease. Read more on managing anxiety, stress and tension.

Make wise lifestyle choices. The UK National Health Service notes that many digestive problems can be prevented and relieved by simple lifestyle changes, such as stopping smoking, and drinking in moderation only. Regular exercise also improves your overall health, and helps to relieve stress as well. Read more about what you can do every day to relieve heartburn and digestive problems.

Wash your hands regularly. Many pathogens that cause digestive problems are transferred into the system when people come into contact with infected faeces or touch surfaces that have been contaminated. Regular washing of hands will promote digestive health.

Study labels on tins and packages. Know what you are eating. Check to see whether pre-packaged and pre-prepared foods might contain ingredients to which you are intolerant. Read more on understanding food labels. Steer clear of foods that have caused stomach upsets in the past.

Listen to the call of nature. When you feel the need to empty your bowel, do so immediately. Delaying this could lead to constipation.

Read More: 

Diagnosing digestive disorders

Treating digestive disorders 

Causes of digestive disorders

Reviewed by Dr Estelle Wilken (MBChB) (MMed Int) ,Senior Specialist, Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology, University of Stellenbosch and Tygerberg Hospital. February 2016.


 

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Digestive Health Expert

Dr. Estelle Wilken is a Senior Specialist in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Tygerberg Hospital. She obtained her MBChB in 1976, her MMed (Int) in 1991 and her gastroenterology registration in 1995.

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