Sunday, Apr 20, 2014
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You're not alone A doctor's take on gastrointestinal symptoms


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Frequent and bothersome gastrointestinal symptoms are more common than you might think. While estimates vary, five to 15 percent of adults in the United States might be affected by chronic gastrointestinal conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome with constipation or chronic idiopathic constipation.

This could mean as many as 13 million adults might suffer from irritable bowel syndrome with constipation, and as many as 35 million adults might have chronic idiopathic constipation.

According to a survey, most adults with these conditions might experience disruptive symptoms three to five days per month. Recurring abdominal pain and constipation, including hard stools, and infrequent and incomplete bowel movements, might indicate irritable bowl syndrome with constipation or, if you have these symptoms with little to no abdominal pain, chronic idiopathic constipation.

Research also shows only 40 to 50 percent of these people plan to speak with their physician about their gastrointestinal symptoms within the next year. Experts say part of the problem is patients are uncomfortable discussing the specific symptoms. 

"Patients often get embarrassed talking about their bathroom habits with a physician," says Steven Lamm, internist and author of "No Guts, No Glory." "There is no need to feel self-conscious."

Lamm recommends preparing for an appointment ahead of time to ensure a more effective conversation. Be ready to discuss the following with your doctor:

? Do you feel abdominal pain?

? How often do you experience hard stools associated with constipation?

? Do you have fewer than three bowel movements a week?

? Are your bowel movements satisfactory; with a sense of complete evacuation?

? How long have you experienced these symptoms (a week, a month, longer)?

? How frequently do you experience these symptoms?

? What have you done in attempts to relieve the symptoms (drinking more water, taking fiber or laxatives, increasing exercise)?

? Do your symptoms keep coming back?

? Has your life been disrupted by your symptoms?

Unfortunately there is no cure for these conditions, but there are ways to help manage symptoms, including dietary and lifestyle changes and taking laxatives. Also, keeping a symptom diary might help identify triggers that exacerbate symptoms.

Keep in mind, over-the-counter laxatives and stool softeners can help with occasional constipation, but they are not approved for long-term use without physician supervision and are not approved for irritable bowel syndrome with constipation. If you are a candidate, a physician might prescribe FDA-approved medications for these conditions.

With open and clear communication between patient and doctor, managing bothersome symptoms is possible.

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