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Health Zone: What your tum is trying tell you; YOU'VE got a burning sensation in your chest, your stomach feels bloated and you have to run to the loo. Was it simply something you ate? Or could you be seriously ill? Here TOBE ALEKSANDER takes a look at some of the common complaints that affect our digestive system.

INDIGESTION & HEARTBURN

WHEN your digestive system works normally, food moves through it easily, but upset its natural rhythm, and the valves and muscles that help make up your digestive system get out of sync.

The result: Acidic stomach juices may flow in reverse giving you heartburn and leaving a nasty taste in your mouth. Alternatively, your stomach might not empty efficiently, making you feel full and bloated, a sign of dysmotility. Stress, the food we eat and pregnancy all take their toll on our guts, but dysmotility, the symptoms of dyspepsia (indigestion) and heartburn - though annoying - are mostly harmless.

Help yourself: Eat regular, well-balanced meals. Avoid fried and fatty foods, alcohol and coffee. Citrus fruits and tomatoes can also aggravate symptoms. Chew food thoroughly and don't eat on the run. Stop smoking and watch your weight. Finish eating 2 - 3 hours before bedtime. If you've got heartburn, sleep propped up.

TUMMY BUGS

GASTROENTERITIS - inflammation of the stomach and intestines - can be caused by a variety of viruses, bacteria and parasites, giving us stomach ache, diarrhoea and vomiting.

Food poisoning alone lays low two million Brits every year. Tummy bugs are unpleasant, but not life threatening for most. The biggest risk is dehydration especially for children and older people. So it's important to drink plenty of clear liquids and take an oral rehydration solution like Dioralyte.

If symptoms persist or you think you might have food poisoning contact your doctor.

To keep bugs at bay, follow these rules scrupulously:

Wash hands thoroughly after using the loo and before touching food - get kids to do the same.

Don't share cups or cutlery with anyone who's infected.

Disinfect work surfaces, keep raw and cooked foods apart, don't leave refrigerated foods lying around and cook everything properly.

BOWEL CANCER

CANCER affects many parts of the digestive system including liver, stomach and pancreas. But the second biggest cancer killer of all is bowel cancer (colorectal cancer). 30 000 people are diagnosed in Britain every year but with early detection the odds of beating it are good.

Are you at risk?

Most bowel cancer occurs in people over 50. A history of it in the family, having Inflammatory Bowel Disease, being overweight, eating a low-fibre, high-fat diet and taking little exercise all put you at risk.

Look out for: Bleeding from your anus or blood in your stool.

-A change in bowel habits - getting diarrhoea or constipation or feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely.

-Cramps, gas or abdominal pain.

-Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite.

-General fatigue.

Treatment: Surgery followed by chemotherapy or radiography if appropriate. New mass screening programmes are being developed.

GALLSTONES

ONE in 10 people have gallstones. Mostly they're trouble-free but they can cause intense pain and serious complications.

Gallstones form in your gallbladder or nearby bile ducts usually when your bile becomes chemically unbalanced. They can be as tiny as grains of sand or bigger than golf balls. Attacks often occur at night but are usually infrequent and might be weeks, months, or even years, apart.

Are you at risk? Gallstones run in families and women are twice as likely as men to suffer.

You can't prevent stones from forming but you can lower your risk of having symptoms:

Avoid skipping breakfast and low-calorie, crash diets; keep well within your target weight and exercise regularly.

Treatment: Simple surgery to remove the gallbladder. Non-surgical alternatives are sometimes appropriate.

PEPTIC ULCERS

FORGET old wives' tales about stress and spicy food, most peptic ulcers are caused by the bacterium, helicobacter pylori, possibly the most common gut infection in the world.

It damages the lining of your stomach and small intestine and leads to sores - or peptic ulcers.

(Gastric ulcers are in the stomach, duodenal ulcers in the small intestine).

Pain-killers like aspirin and ibuprofen can also cause ulcers. The ulcer bug is usually acquired during childhood and spread by those already infected. Over 50s are more likely to be infected because hygiene standards are better today. Smoking and alcohol increase risk.

Look out for: Gnawing pain between navel to breastbone lasting from minutes to hours. Often flares up at night.

-Pain that's worse when your stomach's empty and that's relieved by eating or taking antacids.

-Occasionally more severe signs like vomiting blood or passing bloody or black stools, unexplained weight loss, nausea or upper back pain.

Treatment: Almost everyone can be cured. Treatment is usually two-pronged - an antibiotic to kill the bacteria plus an acid-reducing drug.

IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME (IBS)

A REALLY common complaint. No one knows what causes it and although the symptoms can be disabling, there's no damage or disease in your digestive system.

People with IBS have colons which are particularly sensitive and seem respond more strongly to food and stress.

The symptoms are similar to other illnesses so it's important to rule out anything more serious.

Look out for: Crampy stomach pain often relieved by going to the loo.

-Bloating and gas.

-Changes in bowel habits and motions - straining or needing to go urgently or feeling you haven't managed to empty your bowels completely.

-Stools can suddenly become hard and lumpy or loose and watery.

Treatment: Your doctor will help you look at your diet and eating habits and offer advice on reducing stress.

INFLAMMATORY BOWEL DISEASE (IBD)

IBD is the general name for diseases that cause inflammation in the intestines. There are two chronic disorders - ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.

No one knows for sure what causes these illnesses, but a leading theory is that a virus or bacterium alters the body's immune response and triggers inflammation in the wall of your intestine. Usually starts in young adulthood.

Look out for: Abdominal pain and bloody diarrhoea.

-Weight loss and loss of appetite.

-Rectal bleeding.

-General fatigue.

Treatment: Usually drugs with surgery in severe cases. Sufferers may need to reassess their diets. IBD can go into remission, but will persist.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Contact: www.digestivedisorders.org.uk or send an SAE stating which disorder you want to know about to: Digestive Disorders Foundation, PO Box 251, Edgeware, HA8 6HG. Cancer BACUP: Freeline 0800181199
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Aleksander, Tobe
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 24, 2000
Words:1014
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