Taking Control of Your Gut Health
Guest Post by Dr. Roshini Raj
Digestive trouble is an uncomfortable issue that is familiar to many. Whether it’s diarrhea or a stomach ache that just won’t go away, some with ongoing gastrointestinal (GI) issues find it difficult to determine what’s causing their discomfort.
Also, talking about GI issues may seem embarrassing – even when speaking with a health professional. A survey of individuals with chronic GI issues found that 60 percent of people who expressed difficulty discussing their symptoms with their doctors did not disclose them because of embarrassment.1
People shouldn’t let what they may perceive as an uncomfortable conversation get in the way of understanding their discomfort. GI issues can be a result of a number of conditions that health care professionals are trained to identify. Taking a proactive role in your digestive health is important as it can be a barometer for your overall well-being.
I would encourage anyone with digestive trouble to pay attention to unusual changes in the size, shape, color and odor of their bowel movements and communicate about it with their doctor. It saddens me when I learn of a patient who has been living with a condition for months, or even years, without getting treated. Individuals with chronic GI issues wait nearly four years on average to see a healthcare professional to discuss their digestive discomfort.1 Of patients who express difficulty discussing GI issues with their doctor, nearly half tried to simply wait to see if their symptoms would go away.1 An early, proper diagnosis could have helped them manage their illness.
Providing detailed stool information can help a health provider differentiate between the various GI conditions or refer you to another provider with a specialty in this area. One condition that often goes unrecognized is exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), which occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough enzymes to help food digest into nutrients. It occurs most frequently among individuals who have a condition that affects the pancreas, like cystic fibrosis or chronic pancreatitis.2
Approximately one out of four patients that are eventually diagnosed with EPI were diagnosed with a different condition prior, according to a survey of primary care physicians and gastroenterologists.1 One source of confusion among those undiagnosed is that symptoms of EPI – which can include diarrhea, unexplained weight-loss, gas, stomach pain and changes in stool patterns – are similar to other GI disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease or celiac disease.2
There are differentiators that can clearly indicate if your symptoms are the result of EPI. One specific symptom that is a signature of EPI is steatorrhea, which results in stools that are oily, float, smell bad and are difficult to flush. This occurs because individuals with EPI are unable to absorb all the fat that they eat.2
GI issues can be managed if you know what signs to look for and have an open dialogue with your doctor – ultimately, only they can tell if your symptoms are due to EPI or another condition. For more information about EPI and what these indicators could be, you can visit www.identifyEPI.com.
Dr. Roshini Raj is a spokesperson on behalf of AbbVie.
Author Bio: Dr. Roshini Raj
Dr. Roshini Raj is a gastroenterologist and medical host on Good Day NY. She has offered commentary on a variety of health and medical topics on a range of network and cable shows, including the TODAY show, The View, Good Morning America, World News Tonight, CNN’s American Morning, Nancy Grace, Larry King Live, the Discovery Health Channel, The Tyra Banks Show, The Dr. Oz Show and The Doctors, among others.
Dr. Raj is a board certified gastroenterologist with a medical degree from New York University (NYU) School of Medicine and an undergraduate degree from Harvard University. Currently, Dr. Raj is an attending physician at NYU Medical Center/Tisch Hospital in New York City, where she was the first female gastroenterologist to join the faculty. She also serves as an Associate Professor of Medicine at the NYU School of Medicine.
- American Gastroenterological Association. EPI Uncovered Survey. Available at: http://www.gastro.org/press_releases/largest-analysis-examining-barriers-to-epi-diagnosis-finds-patients-with-digestive-health-issues-overlook-their-symptoms. Last accessed: January 2017.
- Fieker A, Philpott J, Armand M. Enzyme replacement therapy for pancreatic insufficiency: present and future. Clin Exp Gastroenterol. 2011;4:55-73.