Digestive Disorders

I have irritable bowel syndrome. Can you explain what has caused it?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have irritable bowel syndrome. Can you explain what has caused it?

DEAR READER: The honest answer is we don't know what causes irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Over the past 20 years, we've discovered some clues and developed some new treatments. IBS is a common condition. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea and/or constipation, bloating, gassiness and cramping. Here is the criteria that doctors look for when diagnosing IBS:

What is the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance?

DEAR DOCTOR K: What is the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance?

DEAR READER: They both involve food, but other than that, food allergies and food intolerances have little in common. Food allergies are orchestrated by the body's immune system. Food intolerance results from the gut's inability to digest food normally. Food allergies can be fatal; food intolerance causes discomfort but is not usually serious.

Medications haven’t helped my “functional dyspepsia” — Could something more serious be wrong?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My doctor says I have "functional dyspepsia." Medications haven't helped. Could something more serious be wrong?

DEAR READER: Dyspepsia is a medical term for persistent upper abdominal pain or discomfort. When doctors use the word "functional," they mean that there is no identifiable cause for the problem. By this definition, the majority of people with dyspepsia may have functional dyspepsia.

Is there any risk with over-the-counter medicine for my toddler’s frequent constipation?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My toddler has frequent constipation, and I have been giving him milk of magnesia about once a week. Is there any risk with this over-the-counter medicine?

DEAR READER: I'd suggest speaking to your pediatrician or family physician before continuing to give your son milk of magnesia. Normally, children pass stool at regular intervals without much effort or pain. Infants and toddlers typically have several bowel movements a day. Most children age 2 or older have one every day.

Why does my stomach sometimes make growling noises?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Why does my stomach sometimes make growling noises?

DEAR READER: Maybe your stomach is trying to talk to my stomach. My stomach is periodically trying to talk to someone, that's for sure.

Stomach noises happen in everyone, although they seem to plague some people more than others. It happens all the time: I'm examining a patient, his or her stomach growls, and I say, "Time for lunch?" I assume it means the patient is hungry.

Is it safe to take heartburn medication on a long-term basis?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've been taking Prilosec for years to prevent heartburn. My wife doesn't think it's safe to take any drug for that long. What do you think?

DEAR READER: I've said it before, but I think it bears repeating: No drug is 100 percent safe. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't take one if you need it. But you should continually weigh the risks and benefits.

Could a gluten-free diet help my digestive problems?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a healthy young person, but I tend to have a lot of gas, bloating and diarrhea. Could a gluten-free diet help me?

DEAR READER: Gluten-free eating is essential for people with celiac disease, which is an intolerance to the protein gluten. This protein is found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye.

What is gastroparesis?

DEAR DOCTOR K: A friend has a condition called gastroparesis. Could you explain what it is and how it can be treated?

DEAR READER: Gastroparesis is the term used for sluggish emptying of food from the stomach into the small intestine. Normally, your stomach moves about half of an average meal into the small intestine within two hours after you eat. Within four hours, about 90 percent of your meal is in the small intestine. If you have gastroparesis, food stays in the stomach much longer.

How can I stop belching so much?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I belch a lot more than I used to, and I feel an uncomfortable fullness in my upper abdomen after eating. Are there any natural ways to treat this?

DEAR READER: If you're belching and feeling bloated more than you'd like, there are natural treatments you should consider. To understand them, you need to understand why we belch.