The doctor’s guide to best Gastrointestinal Health: Preventing common gut-related issues

Disclaimer: All text and images published in this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional advice. Always consult a registered health professional regarding any health-related diagnosis or treatment options.

Gut health plays a crucial role in everything from keeping a good mood to keeping a strong immune system. Good “gut health” describes the bacteria balance and their functions in our gastrointestinal tract to allow us to digest food without discomfort. 

So, if you’re feeling low or complaining about stomach aches, or dealing with constant bloating, it’s possible it can all be traced back to your gut health. 

Everything that we consume is ultimately broken down into simple forms that enter our bodies and are delivered as nutrients. This process takes place in our gut. So, in keeping a healthy digestive system, keeping a healthy gut is very important too. 

Not only that, but good gut health also helps our body to ward off any threats to infection and  communicates with our brain through nerves which helps maintain general health and overall well-being. 

How to recognise signs of gut health problems?

Abdominal pain is an early symptom for Gastro Health problems, Queensland Gastroenterology

Gastrointestinal symptoms like stomach aches, heartburn and feeling bloated after a heavy meal are some common signs of poor gut health. However, they usually aren’t cause for major concern.

There are other signs and symptoms to look for, such as: 

  • Experiencing digestive problems like vomiting, ingestion, bloating, abdominal pain, heartburn or nausea
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Experiencing pain and discomfort passing stool, black stool, severe stomach aches
  • Trouble swallowing food

If you persistently experience any of these symptoms, it could potentially indicate an underlying gastrointestinal illness that could have a serious consequence if you miss out on early diagnosis. 

Consulting a specialist clinic like Queensland Gastroenterology is the best way to seek medical help with any issues with your gut health. 

Common Gastrointestinal or GI conditions and how to prevent them

1) Stomach Flu 

Stomach flu or Viral Gastroenteritis is an infection in the stomach and the upper part of the small intestine. It is marked by common symptoms like diarrhea, pain and cramps in the stomach and sometimes accompanied by fever and vomiting

Stomach flu affects millions of people every year and is often caused due to consumption of contaminated food and water. Though stomach flu is not very complicated, it can get serious in infants and people with a weaker immune system. 

Low-grade fever, watery diarrhea, nausea accompanied with weakness are some common signs and symptoms of stomach flu. There is no effective treatment available for stomach flu, and this why prevention remains the best cure

The best way to prevent stomach flu is to avoid consuming water and food that might be contaminated and maintaining high standards of food hygiene. 

2) Indigestion or Dyspepsia 

A woman suffering from stomach ache due to ingestion, Queensland Gastroenterology

Indigestion is a common health issue occurring once in a while maybe after a big meal or as often as every day. Indigestion is a term used to describe a myriad of symptoms including feeling uncomfortable or fullness after a big meal, burning or pain in the upper abdomen and so on. 

Many times, both Indigestion and heartburn may indicate similar symptoms, however, both are very different conditions. 

Once diagnosed, a doctor may recommend Indigestion medication based on your severity including recommending antacids, probiotics, antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or an Indigestion diet that can help manage it. 

At our Brisbane based gastroenterology clinic, our doctors advise that the best way to prevent Indigestion is to always practise the basics: Wash your hands thoroughly before handling food. 

3) GERD or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease 

GERD is most commonly characterised by repetitive heartburn or acid reflux over a period occurring in the middle of your chest. 

It occurs when the stomach acid leaks back into the esophagus causing heartburn. This condition can persist over a long time and causes serious damage to the esophagus making GERD a chronic disease.

According to the Gastroenterological Society of Australia, if you experience persistent symptoms such as heartburn, tooth erosion, bad breath and pain in the upper abdomen, see a gastroenterologist immediately. 

GERD can be prevented with lifestyle changes and avoiding food and beverages that can trigger GERD or taking medications like antacids can reduce and prevent inflammation and acidity in your stomach and esophagus. 

GERD can also be prevented by consuming food in smaller quantity at a time and changing what and when you eat. 

4) Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Another common gut illness is Irritable Bowel Syndrome which is characterised by abdominal pain or discomfort at least three times a month for three months in a row. IBS is rather a long-term condition that affects the large intestine called the bowel and may lead to causing cramps, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea. IBS impacts about 15 percent of Australians and is more common in women than men. It is also common for people aged in their twenties but may develop in older and younger people too. While the exact cause of IBS is still not clear, certain food and things are known to trigger IBS symptoms. This includes trigger foods and beverages, consuming certain types of diet, medications, heightened stress and infections in the body. In Australia, there are no medications specifically designed to treat IBS. So, doctors often prescribe medicines that would work best for you. Medicines can include antibiotics, antidiarrheals or antispasmodics that have been medically proven to improve symptoms. A gastroenterologist may also recommend dietary changes to prevent IBS and therapies to improve gut health.

5) Gallbladder Stones

According to the Gastroenterological Society of Australia, the formation of stones in the gallbladder is a common gastro illness in Australia with an estimated prevalence of 25% to 30% amongst people aged over 50 years. Gallstones are hard deposits occurring in the pear-shaped Gallbladder which secretes bile to help in digestion of food. Formation of gallstones can either come with symptoms or no symptoms at all, which is why gallstones are generally diagnosed when patients do a health check. A diet which is low in fats, low in cholesterol, high in protein may help to prevent gallstones. Keeping a healthy diet and weight can also reduce your chances of forming gallstones. If your doctor suspects gallstones, they might recommend a test to gallstone disease. When diagnosed, medication is recommended to dissolve the stones and if that doesn’t work, a gall bladder stone surgery is best advised.

6) Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Inflammatory Bowel Disease refers to persistent inflammation in the digestive tract. It is the name given to a group of conditions that causes the digestive tract to inflamed leading to being swollen and painful at times. Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis are the most common types of inflammatory bowel diseases. Both of these intestinal disorders have similar symptoms and are more likely to occur due to smoking, age, ethnicity, a previous family medical history that makes genetics and issues with the immune system as the main reasons of cause. Symptoms of IBD may include diarrhea, passing of blood in the stool or bleeding ulcers, stomach ache, cramping due to bowel obstruction and weight loss. When diagnosed, your doctor might start its treatment with medications like anti-inflammatory drugs that will reduce inflammation in the digestive tract. Other remedies include the use of Immunosuppressants that prevent the immune system attacking the bowel and causing inflammation. 

When to visit a Gastroenterologist? 

A woman with ingestion pain discussing medical help with a gastroenterologist, Queensland Gastroenterology

Your GP may instruct you to refer to a digestive disease specialist like a gastroenterologist if you experience persistent abdominal pain, stomachaches, rectal bleeding, frequent heartburn, bloating or trouble swallowing food. 

If your symptoms are new or mild, it is best advised to first see a GP and they will determine whether or not you should be referred to a specialist. 

If you’re 50 years or above, regular screening for Colorectal Cancer is advised. A screening test like this should be administered even before the symptoms are present. 

We have two gastroenterology clinics based out of Brisbane, in Greenslopes and Cleveland. 

If you want to request a booking with our specialists, you can visit this page and fill in the details or give us a call at (07) 3324 1500  for an appointment over the phone.

Authored by:

Queensland Gastroenterology and Professor Darrell Crawford

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