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ONE in four of us experiences things such as constipation or diarrhoea at least once a month, according to a recent survey of 2,000 adults.

The poll also found other regular complaints include indigestion (28%), heartburn (26%) and abdominal pain (24%).

Dr Anton Emmanuel, consultant gastroenterologist at University College Hospital in London says: "With so many in Britain experiencing symptoms of poor gut health, it's important to raise awareness of digestive health issues and chronic conditions and encourage sufferers to seek medical advice in order to treat conditions before they get worse."

So check out our guide and see if your tummy is trying to tell you something.

IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME (IBS) What is it? IBS is a gastrointestinal condition affecting as many as one in five Brits. It's a functional disorder so an X-ray of the gut would show no obvious problem. It's thought the gut is simply more sensitive.

Symptoms: Abdominal pain/ discomfort with frequent diarrhoea or constipation, bloating and wind.

What causes it? IBS could be triggered by an infection such as gastroenteritis or overuse of antibiotics or certain drugs, typically anti-inflammatories. There's also evidence that those affected have increased sensitivity to external stimuli, such as stress.

Deal with it: There is no cure but symptoms can be managed with lifestyle measures, such as altering diets and reducing stress. Antispasmodic medication may be prescribed. Visit The IBS Network (

IRRITABLE BOWEL DISEASE (IBD) What is it? IBD is a bracket-term for two chronic inflammatory intestinal diseases - ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Symptoms: A change in bowel habits (urgent and or bloody diarrhoea), abdominal pain, weight loss, and extreme tiredness. What causes it? Ulcerative colitis is caused when the inner lining of the intestine becomes inflamed and develops ulcers while Crohn's disease affects not only the lining of the intestine but can also spread to the entire bowel wall. Genetics and smoking can be contributing factors. Deal with it: Once IBD has been diagnosed, through stool sampling, barium X-rays, CT scans and a colonoscopy, it is commonly treated with anti-inflammatory medications, which inhibit harmful immune system activities.

In some cases, surgery may be required to remove a section of the intestine.

GASTROENTERITIS What is it? Gastroenteritis - or gastric flu, stomach flu and food poisoning - is inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Symptoms: Stomach cramps with repeated diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, sometimes accompanied by headaches. What causes it? A virus, such as the norovirus, or food that has not been cooked properly, stored at the right temperature, cross contaminated or eaten past its use-by date.

Deal with it: In the majority of cases, gastroenteritis will work its way out of your body without the need for medical treatment so sufferers are advised to drink fluids, eat plain food and rest. Over-the-counter oral-rehydration solutions and anti-nausea medication can be helpful. See your doctor if symptoms are severe or last more than a few days.

GALLSTONES What is it? Stones caused when the digestive juice bile, stored in the gall bladder, contains too much cholesterol and solidifies.

Symptoms: Sporadic episodes of severe pain on the right side under the ribs that may radiate to the centre of the back or shoulder blades - possibly with vomiting, raised temperature, yellowing skin and/or whites of the eyes, shivering and itchy skin. What causes it? A high-cholesterol diet may be a factor.

Deal with it: Some gallstones don't need treatment. Others may need to be removed surgically or via an endoscope.

COELIAC DISEASE What is it? Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease, not an allergy or food intolerance, caused by a reaction to gluten - a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.

Symptoms: Stomach pain, wind, constipation and bloating What causes it? The immune system sees gluten as a threat and attacks it, causing damage to the small intestine. Deal with it: A strict gluten-free diet is needed.

GASTRO-OESOPHAGEAL REFLUX DISEASE (GORD) What is it? This is where stomach acid leaks out of the stomach and into the oesophagus.

Symptoms: Heartburn, dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) and an unpleasant sour taste in the mouth. What causes it? The most common cause is a weakened lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS), which allows stomach acid back into the oesophagus. Risk factors for this include obesity, a high-fat diet, being pregnant or an excessive consumption of alcohol, tobacco, chocolate or coffee. Deal with it: Changing diet and medications, such as antacids, PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) and H2-receptor antagonists (H2RAs) can help. In some cases, surgery is needed.

CONSTIPATION What is it? This is the inability to pass stools regularly or empty your bowels completely.

Symptoms: Bloated abdomen, cramps, nausea and loss of appetite. What causes it? Not eating enough fibre - we should have 18g a day - and not drinking enough fluids, ignoring the urge to pass stools and anxiety or depression can contribute. Deal with it: Lifestyle and diet changes and exercise can ease constipation. Laxatives can help in the short-term. Talk to your pharmacist.

LACTOSE INTOLERANCE What is it? This is the inability to absorb the natural sugar found in milk - lactose - because your body lacks enough of the enzymelactase to break it down.

Symptoms: Bloating and looser stools after having dairy products. What causes it? It runs in families and can also be triggered by some digestive conditions, which seem to decrease the production of lactase. Deal with it: Try cutting out dairy; if your symptoms return when dairy is consumed again, then you should switch to a low-lactose diet.

PEPTIC ULCER What is it? Also known as gastric ulcers, these are open sores that develop in the stomach lining, although they can also form further along the intestine.

Symptoms: A burning pain in the centre of the abdomen.

What causes it? One of the two triggers are H.pylori bacteria infections, which are common and it's possible to be infected without knowing, as there are no symptoms. The other trigger is the overuse of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin.

Deal with it: See your GP, who can prescribe antibiotics for H.pylori and proton pump inhibitors - if NSAIDs are the cause.

With so many in Britain experiencing symptoms of poor gut health, it's important to raise awareness of digestive health issues Dr Anton Emmanuel, consultant gastroenterologist


Acid reflux, left, and gallstones, above, can be treated

Stomach pain can be a sign of a serious problem, such as a peptic ulcer, left
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Oct 28, 2016
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