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Gas, Bloating: Always Uncomfortable?

Medications can calm spastic colon
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Upset stomach got you down? Gas, bloating, and bathroom problems are a constant battle for many people -- often the symptoms are related to diet, but there are some more serious medical conditions that may be the culprit.

Most people know that beans, broccoli, and onions can cause gas, but what most people don't suspect are fruits, sodas, and milk. Fructose (a sugar found in fruits and sodas) and lactose (a sugar found in dairy products) are common causes of gas, bloating, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea.

Lactose intolerance is extremely common. It is estimated that 30 to 50 million Americans have some degree of lactose intolerance. Certain racial and ethnic populations are more affected than others, including 75% of African Americans, Jews, Hispanics, and Native Americans, and 90% of Asians.

Fructose intolerance is also common, but less recognized. A study presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology in Seattle by University of Kansas researcher Peter Beyer, RD, finds that nearly half of normal people get gas from fructose. This common fruit sugar is found in fruit juice and is used as a sweetener in some soft drinks.

Experts suggest that you keep a diary of foods that you eat and their relation to your symptoms and take that information to your doctor. Careful review of diet and the amount of gas passed may help relate specific foods to symptoms and determine the severity of the problem.

In addition, there are tests your doctor can perform to diagnose lactose and fructose intolerance. In fact, because of how common it is, Beyer suggests that people with these symptoms should get breath tests to see if fructose is the root cause of the problem.

But other researchers think that many cases of gas, bloating, and bathroom problems may be related to another condition: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Mugdha Gore, PhD, an independent researcher based in Philadelphia, has studied the issue. In a survey of more than 650 people diagnosed with intestinal disorders, she found that the majority had IBS -- and were getting no relief from medications.

She presented her report this week at the annual meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology in Seattle.

Indeed, IBS is one of the most common intestinal disorders, and can be difficult to diagnose, says Gore. For many people, the symptoms alternate frequently. While gas and bloating are the constants, there may be abdominal pain or discomfort, plus altered bowel habits -- people may be constipated one week, have diarrhea the next, or have a sudden urge to have a bowel movement. The pattern varies from person to person, she says.

Experts don't know the exact cause of IBS, but suspect it may be triggered by stress, hormones, and nerve signal disruptions in the brain.

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