When you’ve got problems with your gut, you probably don’t like talking about it, right? Well, don’t hold it in any longer (pun definitely intended) gastrointestinal issues are extremely common, says John Kisiel, M.D., gastroenterologist at Mayo Clinic, so there’s no reason to be embarrassed.
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In fact, studies show that about one-fifth of the population experiencesbloating, reflux, or constipation. Here are some of the most common stomach ailments and how to treat them:
1. Acid Reflux
That burning sensation you feel in your stomach, upper abdomen, or chest after eating is acid reflux, says Kisiel. According to a study published in the journal Gastroenterology, about 20 percent of the population in the U.S. has reported acid reflux symptoms weekly, while stats from the U.S. Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project found that 60 percent of adults in this country will have symptoms at one point in their lives. Noshing on spicy or citrusy foods and lying down immediately post-eating can make the discomfort worse. (Read: A pre-bedtime fajita is not a good idea.) The burning can be treated with OTC meds, but if you have any additional symptoms, such as trouble swallowing, unintentionally losing weight, or you’re anemic, visit your doc, who can determine if you need a diagnostic test to rule out cancer, says Kisiel.
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If you experience pain, bloating, and/or nausea in your stomach after scarfing down a large meal on a regular basis, it’s probably dyspepsia (a.k.a. indigestion). Like acid reflux, this can also be treated with OTC acid-blocking meds, says Kisiel. A study published in the Postgraduate Medical Journal found that between 20 and 40 percent of people in the U.S. deal with these tummy troubles.
3. Irritable Bowel Syndrome
This condition can come in the form of diarrhea, constipation, or a mixture of the two. If your flow seems off for a few days, there’s no need to assume that you’ve got IBS it’s diagnosed after six months of chronic abdominal pain and change in the form or frequency of bowel movements, says Kisiel. IBS is actually pretty common: According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, between 25 and 45 million people in the U.S. have IBS. Unfortunately, experts aren’t sure exactly what causes IBS (it’s a chronic illness).
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But it’s seen more in women than in men, because women’s bowels tend to be less supported in the pelvis. Regardless, if you have any strange symptoms, such as nocturnal bowel movements (getting up just to go), blood in the toilet, fevers, anemia, and unintentional weight loss, those are signs you should seek medical attention and talk to your doctor. If you’re diagnosed, your doc can prescribe meds to manage the symptoms, and in rare cases, refer you for a colon cancer screening, especially if you have a family history of the disease. Staying up to date on preventative colon cancer screenings is important, because there aren’t often symptoms in the early stages.
4. Functional Constipation
In other words: consistent difficulty in passing bowel movements. In women, it is sometimes a sign of pelvic floor dysfunction (incoordination between pelvic floor and rectal muscles), and it can be treated with physical therapy, says Kisiel. According to a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, close to 15 percent of adults have regular constipation. If you’re newly experiencing this, tell your doctor, who can do a scope test to rule out any blockage or a tumor that could be causing the problem.
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5. Abdominal Wall Pain
If your pain is in a pinpointed location rather than all over your abdomen, you might be suffering from abdominal wall pain, which is four times more common in women than in men, a study in Clinical Gastroenterology Hepatology reports. According to the UNC Center for Functional GI and Motility Disorders, it’s usually casued by nerve compression in the abdomen. Although the feeling can be severe, it’s not dangerous. It’s usually not progressive and can be treated with an injection of an anti-inflammatory med every few months by your M.D., says Kisiel. If you feel a sharp pain and there are certain positions or movements that can make it feel worse or better, that could be a sign you’ve got this, so make an appointment to get it checked out.