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Digestive discomfort: everybody has it, no one wants to talk about it. But if you are among the 70 million men and women whose lives are disrupted by a diagnosable digestive disorder, it’s time to open up to your healthcare provider. You deserve to live a full life — don’t let your GI tract call the shots a moment longer.

Some of the most common gastrointestinal complaints include:

* Chronic constipation: if you have fewer than three stools per week for 12 weeks, you may be constipated. Caused by inadequate roughage in diet and treated with higher fiber intake or laxatives (sparingly).

* Fecal incontinence: leakage or loss of bowel control. Affects one in 12 adults and treated with pelvic exercises, diet, medication and surgery.

* Gastrointestinal reflux: also known as GERD or heartburn (experienced twice or more weekly).

* Hemorrhoids: swollen and inflamed veins around the anus or in the lower rectum. They usually go away within days, but consult with your doctor if you notice blood in the stool, which could be a sign of colon cancer.

* Irritable bowel syndrome: a set of symptoms which can include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, constipation, bloating and pain, all lasting at least 12 weeks or more. The causes are unknown at this time.

* Irritable bowel disease: the formal heading for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, conditions which can result in debilitating abdominal pain, diarrhea and anemia. Caused by immune system mistakenly attacking the GI tract and treated with various options for medication and/or surgical relief.

* Celiac disease: a physical intolerance for dietary gluten, which triggers the immune system to destroy GI tract machinery and poorly absorb nutrients. Sufferers must avoid eating foods with gluten.

* Diverticulitis: pouches called diverticula form when pressure builds inside the colon wall and become painfully inflamed. The most likely cause of diverticulitis is a low-fiber diet. Can lead to serious complications; seek treatment right away if you feel significant pain in the lower left side of your abdomen.

* Peptic ulcers: sores in the lining of the stomach or first part of the small intestine. They show up as unexplained stomach pain and are generally caused by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (not stress). Note that they are worsened with use of non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen) — be careful if self-treating abdominal pain!

* Colon polyps: growths inside the colon that can lead to colon cancer, the second most common form of cancer in the United States. For most people over the age of 50, it is critical to get regular colonoscopy exams to screen for colon polyps.

Easy ways to boost your best digestive health include:

1. Eat a diet high in natural sources of fiber. The benefits of foods with artificially-added fiber are unclear, so try to get as much fiber from grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes as possible.

2. Be careful using painkillers. When you’re dealing with intense abdominal pain, you may want to reach for NSAIDS (like ibuprofen), but the unfortunate truth is that they will worsen some conditions like peptic ulcers. Talk to your doctor about safe ways to manage your pain.

3. Drink like a fish and eat some, too. Take in at least 64 ounces (that’s four standard water bottles) of water daily. If your lips are chapped, it’s probably a sign of dehydration. It’s also recommended to consume sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce intestinal inflammation.

4. Treat yourself right. As with any illness, your body may be crying out for help after a period of improper use. If you’re not getting enough exercise, nutrients, relaxation or sleep, it’s often a matter of time before something goes wrong. And if you smoke, that’s doubly true. Be kind to your body — it’s the only one you’ve got!

Here's why digestive disorders affect more women than men: 

Though some gastrointestinal problems are more often associated with men, the truth is that women experience more digestive disorders than their male counterparts. This is due mostly to the simple matter of anatomy, as women come equipped with:

* Higher sensitivity to pressure and taste.

* Slower emptying of stomach, gallbladder.

* More inclination toward nausea and bloating.

* And of course, periods of nausea, heartburn and gallstones during pregnancy.

Talk to your physician about the many treatment options that can have you back to your true self in less time than you may think.

Facts:

Up to 50 pecent of people in the U.S. deal with gastrointestinal (GI) problems.

More of us experience digestive difficulties each year than the common cold.

We spend $500 annually on laxatives and fiber supplements alone.

Almost everyone with GI disorders reports a decreased quality of life.

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Amy Fachman is the public relations and marketing coordinator at Fremont Health.

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