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Dietitians Dish: May is Digestive Diseases Awareness Month

By By Elizabeth Sommerfeld
May 21, 2013 at 12:21 a.m.


Did you know that May is Digestive Diseases Awareness Month?

Digestive diseases can include anything from irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, diverticular disease or celiac disease to peptic ulcers.

Symptoms range from gas, diarrhea and stomachaches to extreme pain or constipation.

The best way to learn how to control these issues is to determine what the problem actually is that is causing the symptoms.

This is the month to make the decision to visit a medical professional for diagnosis.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder that can cause abdominal pain, fullness, gas and bloating that have been present for at least three days a month for the last three months. It is caused by an abnormality in the bowel structure and should not be confused with inflammatory bowel disease, which includes such diseases as Crohn's and ulcerative colitis.

For those with inflammatory bowel disease, pain or symptoms will typically go away after a bowel movement.

People with Irritable Bowel Syndrome may switch between diarrhea and constipation or consistently have one or the other.

Crohn's disease is a member of the inflammatory bowel disease and usually affects the gastrointestinal tract. The process behind Crohn's disease is unknown, but it appears to be an autoimmune disease, a disease in which the body attacks itself. The main symptoms range from mild to severe cramping abdominal pain, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, pain when having a bowel movement, weight loss or persistent, watery diarrhea.

Ulcerative colitis is a similar disease that affects the lining of the large intestine, or colon and rectum.

Similar to Crohn's there is no known cause of ulcerative colitis.

Stress and certain foods can trigger symptoms. Symptoms are very similar to Crohn's disease and can include abdominal pain and cramping, gurgling or splashing sounds to abdomen, blood and pus in the stool, diarrhea, fever, pain when passing stool and weight loss.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics provides the following tips for reducing gastrointestinal distress.

Eat a balanced diet. Choose a variety of foods from each food group, especially fiber-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains as well as certain yogurts and fluids.

Eat small, more frequent meals. Plan for four to five small meals per day instead of two to three large meals.

Chew more. Digestion starts in the mouth. Chew food thoroughly to help with breakdown of nutrients.

Get moving. Even slow activities promote good digestive health.

Keeping a food record or writing down foods and symptoms that occur after eating may help medical doctors or registered dietitians pinpoint which disease you may be suffering from.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases is a good resource to find out more about digestive diseases, signs and symptoms and treatment after diagnosis. Remember, it is Digestive Diseases Awareness Month so use this information to listen to your gut.

Elizabeth Sommerfeld is the clinical nutrition manager/bariatric coordinator at DeTar Healthcare Systems. She is a registered and licensed dietitian and has a Master of Science degree. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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