Thursday, June 14, 2012
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Symptoms of gastric discomfort — indigestion, heartburn and stomach cramps — usually diminish in just a few hours. But for some people, digestive distress persists and becomes a constant concern. An eight-page Special Report in the June issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter focuses on digestive health problems, which often can be successfully treated or managed.
Many causes, many treatments: The Special Report covers treatments for digestive problems including ulcers, celiac disease, pancreatitis, Crohn's disease, diverticular disease, gallstones and liver disease. Seeking medical care sooner, rather than later, can help manage or even cure these conditions. Early action also may prevent a serious condition from becoming life threatening.
Aging alone isn't the problem: People often blame aging for digestive problems. With aging, changes do occur. For example, the stomach loses elasticity and doesn't hold as much food. But, in general, changes due to aging have a mild impact on digestion.
Heartburn (or heart attack?): Emergency care is recommended when heartburn seems different or worse than usual, especially if it occurs during physical activity or is accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, nausea or pain radiating into the shoulder and arm.
The heart and esophagus are in close proximity and share similar nerve connections. They both can cause chest pain, ranging from mild to severe. And distinguishing heartburn from heart attack is not always easy.
Don't blame spicy food: Most ulcers develop because of a bacterial infection or as a side effect of medications, not because of last night's dinner. The most common ulcer symptom is gnawing pain in the upper abdomen between the navel and breastbone. Treatment usually involves antibiotics and medications to reduce the level of acid in the stomach and give it a chance to heal.
Being 'regular' doesn't mean every day: Constipation — one of the most common complaints among older adults — is generally defined as having fewer than three bowel movements a week with stools that are hard and painful. In contrast, easy bowel movements, even if they occur just every other day, would be considered normal.
Constipation may be caused by dehydration, overuse of laxatives, medication side effects, a pattern of delaying bowel movements or underlying medication conditions. Exercise and adequate fiber in the diet can help. A physician can recommend other treatments such as fiber supplements or a brief course of laxatives.
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