5 Gut Health Problems You Shouldn’t Ignore

Our gut – often referred to as our second brain – plays a far more significant role in our overall health than we might realise. Home to trillions of bacteria, the gut microbiome works tirelessly to break down food, absorb nutrients, and even regulate our immune system. But colorectal surgeons know that when this delicate ecosystem gets disrupted, it can lead to a cascade of issues that impact our daily lives. So, with the help of a female surgeon who is a leading colorectal surgeon in Melbourne, here are 5 common gut health problems you should be aware of, along with some tips for keeping your gut microbiome happy and thriving.

  1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

This chronic condition is characterised by a combination of abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, gas, and changes in bowel habits (diarrhoea or constipation). While the exact cause of IBS remains unknown, research suggests it’s linked to imbalances in the gut microbiome, along with factors like stress and genetics.

Symptoms to Watch Out For:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping, especially after meals
  • Bloating and gas
  • Diarrhoea or constipation, or both
  • Mucus in stool
  • Feeling like you haven’t completely emptied your bowels

Tips for Managing IBS:

  • Focus on a Low-FODMAP Diet: This elimination diet helps identify specific fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAPs) that might be triggering your IBS symptoms.
  • Manage Stress: Stress can exacerbate IBS symptoms. Consider relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation.
  • Increase Probiotics: Probiotic supplements or fermented foods may help restore balance in your gut microbiome.
  1. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

This umbrella term encompasses two chronic conditions – Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both involve chronic inflammation of the digestive tract, leading to a variety of unpleasant symptoms. Unlike IBS, IBD is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy gut tissue.

Symptoms to Watch Out For:

  • Severe abdominal pain and cramping
  • Urgent need to have a bowel movement (urgency)
  • Frequent bloody diarrhoea
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Fever

Tips for Managing IBD:

  • Medical Management: IBD requires close collaboration with a gastroenterologist for medication to manage the inflammation.
  • Dietary Adjustments: While there’s no one-size-fits-all diet for IBD, working with a nutritionist can help identify foods that may trigger flare-ups.
  • Lifestyle Modifications: Managing stress and getting enough sleep are crucial for supporting overall health, including managing IBD.
  1. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)

This condition occurs when excessive bacteria populate the small intestine, leading to a variety of digestive issues. Normally, the small intestine contains relatively few bacteria, but factors like previous surgeries, medications, or anatomical abnormalities can allow bacteria to overgrow.

Symptoms to Watch Out For:

  • Bloating and gas
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Diarrhoea or constipation
  • Feeling full after eating very little (early satiety)
  • Weight loss (unintentional)
  • Nutritional deficiencies

Tips for Managing SIBO:

  • Antibiotic Treatment: Doctors may prescribe antibiotics specifically targeted at reducing bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine.
  • Dietary Modifications: A low FODMAP diet can help manage symptoms by limiting fermentable carbohydrates that exacerbate bacterial overgrowth.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Managing stress and ensuring adequate sleep can support gut health and prevent SIBO recurrence.
  1. Traveler’s Diarrhea

This common travel woe is caused by ingesting food or water contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites not native to your gut microbiome. Symptoms typically resolve within a few days but can be quite disruptive during your trip.

Tips for Preventing Traveler’s Diarrhea:

  • Practice Safe Food and Water Hygiene: Stick to bottled water, avoid raw fruits and vegetables, and choose thoroughly cooked meals when traveling to destinations with higher risk.
  • Consider Probiotics: Taking a daily probiotic supplement before, during, and after your trip might help reduce the severity or duration of traveller’s diarrhea.
  1. Colorectal Cancer: Early Detection is Key

While the gut health problems mentioned above can be disruptive and uncomfortable, it’s important to be aware of a more serious condition – colorectal cancer. This type of cancer affects the colon (large intestine) or rectum. Fortunately, colorectal cancer is highly treatable when detected early.

Who is at Risk?

The risk of colorectal cancer increases with age, with most cases occurring in people over 50. However, certain factors can increase your risk, including:

  • Family history: Having a close relative with colorectal cancer increases your risk.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Chronically inflamed bowels like those seen in Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis can raise your risk.
  • Lifestyle: A diet low in fibre and high in red meat, processed foods, and unhealthy fats can contribute to an increased risk. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are also risk factors.

Early Detection Saves Lives

Colorectal cancer often doesn’t cause symptoms in the early stages. This is why regular screening is crucial for early detection and successful treatment. Depending on your age and risk factors, your doctor might recommend one or more of the following screening tests:

  • Colonoscopy: This procedure allows your doctor to examine the entire length of your colon for polyps (abnormal growths) that could become cancerous.
  • Stool test: Certain stool tests can detect hidden blood in the stool, which can be a sign of colorectal cancer.

When to See Your Doctor

While some gut health issues can be managed through diet and lifestyle changes, it’s important to consult your doctor if you experience any persistent or severe symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent complications and improve your quality of life. Here are some red flags to watch out for:

  • Blood in your stool
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever and chills along with digestive issues
  • Severe and persistent abdominal pain
  • Difficulty swallowing

Remember, a Healthy Gut is a Happy You!

Your gut plays a vital role in your overall health and well-being. By being mindful of diet, incorporating healthy lifestyle habits, and addressing any gut health concerns promptly, you can create an environment where your gut microbiome thrives. A happy gut means better digestion, improved nutrient absorption, a stronger immune system, and potentially even a more positive mood! So, take charge of your gut health and experience the benefits of a balanced inner ecosystem.

Want to Speak to a Female Surgeon? Find the Right Colorectal Surgeon in Melbourne Today

As an experienced female surgeon and colorectal surgeon in Melbourne, Dr Naseem has performed screening tests and surgeries for many years, working to ensure that patients are kept as comfortable as possible and given access to the most innovative treatments available. Contact us to schedule your colonoscopy or book your appointment with a colorectal surgeon in Melbourne today.