What’s Really Going on With Your Stomach, According to a Drexel Med Gastroenterologist
Nowadays, it seems like stomach issues —bloating, constipation or all-around discomfort — are increasingly common. The problem, though, is that these stomach issues are often tricky to navigate. Is this discomfort just a part of life to be accepted? What symptoms are causes for concern? Can it be cured? Should I stop eating gluten?! To get to the bottom of this pesky ailment, we consulted with Neilanjan Nandi, MD, a gastroenterologist at Drexel Medicine.
Abdominal discomfort can manifest in a variety of ways – some common, some less so. The common symptoms are obvious: diarrhea, bloating, constipation and gas. You might be surprised to learn, however, that the GI tract covers a major portion of our body (from our mouths to our rectums). This means that symptoms can range from difficulty swallowing, chronic cough, shortness of breath, back pain and even incontinence Sometimes chest pain without burning can occur that is considered atypical of cardiac causes of chest discomfort. “The job of the GI doctor,” says Dr. Nandi, “is to make sure [the symptoms don’t indicate] something worse.”
When to See a Physician:
For the sake of calming our frenzied minds, we asked Dr. Nandi which symptoms absolutely warrant a trip to the physician. He explains, “Typically [those] would be what we call ‘constitutional symptoms.’ Those symptoms are unexplained fevers, chills or night sweats [and] unintentional weight loss.” He notes that while they may not be obvious, they could concern your physician. “The more obvious symptoms that should take anyone to a GI doctor are when they see blood in their stool,” he warns. “Most commonly, people think of blood being the color red, but digested blood, which has had time to be digested in the body or to be oxidized by air, can become black.” Likewise, if one has a change in the consistency of your stools such as new onset diarrhea or constipation that does not improve after at least 2-4 weeks, this too may be worrisome, especially if accompanied by blood in the stool, fatigue, or constitutional symptoms. If these occur, consider it a red flag and consult a GI doctor ASAP.
Diet and Abdominal Pain:
Dr. Nandi divulged that one of the first things he asks a patient is, “What makes [the pain] better and what makes it worse?” By taking a thorough dietary history, Dr. Nandi can identify if certain foods are impacting a patient negatively. He continues, “Some patients have abdominal discomfort, gas or bloating, but they may be unable to describe or know that they should call it gas or bloating. We find that some people are really sensitive to [certain] foods.” A gastroenterologist can run tests or introduce a diet to help discern problematic foods and improve one’s symptoms.
Stress and Abdominal Pain:
“We know that stress can have untold and very powerful effects on our mental, emotional and physical health,” says Dr. Nandi. “In terms of medical disease, we know that, for instance with IBS, there’s a specific association with anxiety and stress. So when people do have more stress in their life or anxiety-provoking episodes or circumstances, their bloating or abdominal discomfort can certainly get worse.” To help remedy this, he suggests finding ways to cope with the stress, be it with deep breathing techniques, meditation, yoga or altering the environment that causes the anxiety. Other treatments also target special dietary modifications as well.
How to Improve Gut Health:
If you’re looking to maintain gut health and prevent future stomach problems, Dr. Nandi suggests eating a Mediterranean diet. “[A] Mediterranean diet that’s high in vegetables, fruits and fish has shown to be anti-inflammatory. And that can influence your gut tremendously,” he continues. “We need those fruits and vegetables to provide energy for microbes in our gut. They rely on the food we put into our gut to help us digest and keep a healthy digestive system.”
The misconception surrounding abdominal discomfort is the belief that it’s normal or something that’s a part of life. But that’s not always the case explains Dr. Nandi, “There are lots of patients [for whom] we have a treatment or a management [program], and we’re going to make [them] feel better.” If there’s any doubt or question, a gastroenterologist will be able to provide treatment, or at least, peace of mind.
If you’re suffering from unexplained stomach pain, visit Drexel Medicine to participate in this quiz. That, coupled with a discussion with your physician, will put you on the path to identifying your ailment.This is a paid partnership between Drexel Medicine and Philadelphia Magazine's City/Studio