All men (and women) have had the unpleasant ordeal of some kind of ‘digestive disorder’ making life miserable. Digestive issues commonly affect about one in five Americans, from foodborne illness to excessive bloating to abdominal pain or cramping.
Many digestive problems often resolve without requiring medical treatment. But, sometimes, a persistent and bothersome digestive problem that won’t go away may need medical attention.
Women are more likely to see a doctor for digestive problems than men, even though both sexes can suffer from these disorders. If men ignore or believe an ongoing problem will resolve on its own, the digestive situation could become more problematic or serious.
Men need to recognze the effect on their lives when experiencing a problematic gastrointestinal issue. Often, simple lifestyle changes can eliminate some digestive problems. However, some require seeing a healthcare professional to discover the cause and to develop a treatment plan.
Here’s a look at the top five digestive problems commonly seen in men.
The burning sensation of stomach acid flowing into the esophagus, commonly called heartburn or acid reflux, is hard to ignore. Typically caused by a malfunctioning sphincter at the base of the esophagus allowing acidic juices from the stomach to enter, it is an annoyance that may occur only occasionally. But, long-term acid reflux, which occurs at least twice a week, can seriously damage the delicate and unprotected lining of the esophagus. As a result, a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, a precursor to esophageal cancer, can develop.
When acid reflux is ongoing, your doctor may diagnose it as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). GERD can erode the esophageal lining, causing bleeding and pain. The pain is usually located near the area of the heart and, thus, may be mistaken for a heart attack. When GERD is left untreated, your risk for life-threatening esophageal cancer is increased. Getting an accurate diagnosis early on is vital for preventing this situation.
Treating or controlling GERD begins with lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy body weight, slowing down when eating and eating smaller portions, drinking water instead of soda, refraining from eating three hours before bed, and quitting smoking.
Chronic constipation is ongoing infrequent or difficult-to-pass bowel movements persisting for weeks or longer. It’s considered normal to have a bowel movement three times a day or up to three times a week. Even though women are more likely to suffer from constipation than men, men are more likely to suffer in silence. Causes of constipation in men include insufficient fiber in their diet, inadequate fluid intake, lack of exercise, stress, using certain medications causing constipation, or poor bowel habits such as ignoring the need to defecate.
Lifestyle changes are best for controlling and, ideally, preventing constipation. Start by drinking at least 8 to 10 glasses of water daily, increase exercise to at least 30 minutes most days, eat at least five servings of high-fiber foods like beans, lentils, vegetables, fruit, and whole grains Also, when you feel the urge to have a bowel movement, listen to Mother Nature. Putting off having a bowel movement can lead to constipation, impaction, and more severe complications.
If these steps don’t help, talk to your doctor about other possible causes of chronic constipation.
A natural and common occurrence for everyone is belching, bloating, and passing of gas. Usually, these issues do not affect daily life, but they become more problematic, when the conditions are ongoing.
Each issue has its specific cause. For example, belching or burping is caused by swallowing air when eating that accumulates in the esophagus. Men with GERD are more prone to excessive belching. Men with chronic belching may be caused by stomach lining inflammation or by Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium for stomach ulcers.
To reduce belching it helps to eat and drink slowly, avoid carbonated beverages and beer, avoid gum and sucking on hard candy, quit smoking, treat heartburn, ensure you have properly fitted dentures, and move more.
Bloating is the sensation of a full stomach that a visible increase in the size of the abdomen may also accompany. Bloating is not completely understood but may have a connection with irritable bowel syndrome or anxiety. It helps to reduce bloating by following the same lifestyle changes that help reduce belching.
Flatulence is a normal occurrence that happens, on average, about 14 times a day for most people. It occurs when gas builds up in the intestinal tract caused by the digestion or fermentation of undigested food from bacteria in the bowels. To prevent excessive gas, it helps to eliminate certain gas-producing foods such as beans, cabbage, onions, broccoli, beer, fatty foods, and carbonated beverages. Dairy products may also be a problem if you have lactose intolerance. If eliminating gas-producing foods is not helpful, try over-the-counter remedies such as Gas-X or Beano. These products may help reduce gas production over the course of your day.
A “peptic ulcer” is a sore that has developed on the lining of the stomach or upper intestine, but it cannot be seen without special equipment. The causes of a peptic ulcer are primarily from two sources: The bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) and long-term use of over-the-counter medications used to treat pain, such as NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-flammatory drugs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen sodium (Aleve). What does not cause a peptic is stress or spicy foods.
Peptic ulcer symptoms may include nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, weight loss, bloating, and acid reflux. If a peptic ulcer is left untreated, a hole in the lining of your digestive tract can lead to internal bleeding, anemia, and hospitalization.
Anyone experiencing symptoms of a peptic ulcer should seek medical attention right away. Tests will be done to diagnose an ulcer, and if caused by H. pylori, antibiotics will be administered. Doctors may sometimes prescribe a proton pump inhibitor to reduce acid production in the stomach.
Colon cancer is a disease that forms in the lining of the colon or rectum from polyps that can be either benign or cancerous. Most polyps found during a colonoscopy are benign or harmless, wart-like growths that can be flat, raised, or on a stalk with other polyps.
When comparing the rate of colon cancer among men and women, this disease is found more often in men. Therefore, men with a family history of colon cancer should begin screening for this disease at age 40. Besides family history, other risk factors for this disease include age, poor diet, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s colitis, type 2 diabetes, inactive lifestyle, obesity, smoking, and excessive alcohol use.
It’s believed that up to 90% of colon cancers can be prevented with lifestyle changes. These healthy changes include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, reaching and maintaining a healthy body weight, limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding smoking, and having regular colon cancer screenings.
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.