The gut is an essential part of our digestive system and when something upsets it, it can have a big impact on our day-to-day life, these are the common gut conditions we’re likely to have and the best ways you can treat them.
The gut is essential for helping up to absorb the nutrients we need to keep us healthy and well, so with the help of Dr Anthony Hobson, Clinical Director of the Functional Gut Clinic, we look through five common conditions that that can affect the gut, with a guide on the symptoms to be aware of and importantly how we can treat them too.
Dr Hobson explains that the most common gut complaints he deals with in his practice are linked to the food and lifestyle habits of patients, and making small changes to our diets and activity levels can have a big positive impact on gut health as well as general wellbeing too.
He says that a lot of people who have problems with the gut can also benefit from a high-quality probiotic supplement, as they contain friendly strains of gut bacteria and this helps to improve symptoms by rebalancing the good and bad bacteria that can be found in the gut.
But it’s important to be aware of certain symptoms, considered ‘red flag’, these include things like unexpected weight loss, bleeding from the back passage, and a constant change in bowel habits. Dr Hobson explains to visit your GP if you notice any of these symptoms.
Below we take a look at five common conditions that can affect the gut, the symptoms to know and how they can be treated.
Symptoms - The most obvious symptom that you get from bloating is a swollen stomach, which can leave clothes feeling tighter. When you feel bloated you might also experience some wind, which can sometimes help to relieve the symptoms.
Causes – It’s quite a common feeling to be bloated, and it can often occur after we’ve eaten a big meal. Whilst the majority of people will experience it a few times a month, there are some people who suffer a few times a week. Typically bloating is just a build-up of gas, which can be attributed to certain foods like beans, fizzy drinks and broccoli, as the body takes longer to break them down. However, in some cases bloating can be the sign of a more serious condition like IBS or coeliac disease. Bloating can often be the cause of an imbalance of bacteria in the gut.
Treatment – It’s important not to cut out specific food groups unless a healthcare professional has told you to do so, it could be down to the fact you need to eat at a slower pace, chew your food more, or avoid drinking whilst you eat your meals. A daily probiotic, like ProVen Probiotics, could also be beneficial to help with the symptoms of bloating.
Symptoms – The symptoms of constipation are relatively quite easy to spot, for a healthy bowel movement you need to be going to the toilet at least three times a week. If you have stools that are hard to push out and they’re quite dry, lumpy and hard, it’s likely that you’re constipated. Other symptoms might also include bloating, stomach ache or sickness.
Causes – The most common causes of constipation are linked to our diet and exercise. It’s imperative that we eat enough fibre for healthy bowel movement and this means plenty of fruit and vegetables. If you don’t drink enough water and aren’t active then these can cause constipation. For those who are pregnant constipation can be a problem, as well as up to six weeks after giving birth.
Treatment – The easiest way to help ease constipation is to make changes to your diet and increase the number of fluids to take, these should help to make stools easier to pass. Eat more fibre, so eat foods like apples, pears, whole grain pasta, porridge and brown rice. Get your gut moving by increasing how much activity you do, a brisk walk or jog might be all you need.
Symptoms – Common symptoms of diarrhoea include loose or watery stools, alongside feeling sick, vomiting, loss of appetite and a headache. Diarrhoea can be quite contagious, so it’s important that you don’t go to work and avoid other people as much as you can to avoid spreading it.
Causes – The most common causes are bowel infections or poor food hygiene, but it can also be caused by a food allergy or a side effect to medicine. There are other health condition that list diarrhoea as a common symptom, and if you think you have any of these it’s important to see your GP, these include Crohn’s disease, IBS, celiac disease and ulcerative colitis.
Treatment – Typically your symptoms will clear within a few days but it’s imperative that you drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. There are some medications available to help avoid the unpleasant symptoms of the condition. Practising good hygiene habits can help you getting a repeat, as well as spreading the germs to others.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Symptoms – The symptoms of IBS can differ, but you’re likely to feel bloated, have excessive gas, pain in the lower abdominal, and sometimes feeling great relief when you’ve been the toilet. Other common attributes include a change in how often you have bowel movements, as well as the consistency of them. If you have IBS you can have both loose bowel motions, constipation and an alternation of the two.
Causes – IBS is quite a common condition, it affects 36% of people. The exact cause is unknown, however, it’s often attributed to a miscommunication between the gut and brain, which means the food passes through too slowly or too quickly.
Treatment – Diagnosis of IBS can take time, as the diagnosis is usually given on the exclusion of other more serious conditions, which are usually ruled out with stool or blood tests. Keeping track of your symptoms and the triggers of them can help you control your IBS and know what makes it worse so you can avoid them. A food diary can also help you rule out possible food intolerances. Keeping your stress and anxiety levels in check can also help, although they’re not a cause of your IBS, they can contribute to the symptoms of the condition.
Symptoms – Coeliac Disease has some common symptoms with IBS, such as diarrhoea, bloating, abdominal pain and constipation. But you’re also likely to feel fatigues regularly, suffer unexplained weight loss and can suffer with mouth ulcers and rashes. If children are left undiagnosed it can also have an effect on the rate at which they grow and reach puberty too.
Causes – The disease is an autoimmune condition, which means your immune system reacts to gluten. Gluten is a protein which can be found in certain foods like wheat and barley. When those with coeliac disease eat gluten their small intestine becomes inflamed and suffers damage, which means it can’t absorb nutrients.
Treatment – Unfortunately there is no cure for coeliac disease, and the only treatment is following a gluten-free diet in a bid to control the symptoms. Complications of the disease can include anaemia and osteoporosis and in serious cases can cause bowel cancer too.