Western eating habits lead to tummy trouble

Stomach problems are often caused by the individual’s way of life and what is generally referred to as stress, but the problem can often be resolved more easily than what one might think. According to a survey by the Greek Gastroenterology and Nutrition Foundation, in cooperation with the National Statistics Service, 38 percent of the adult population that took part in the survey suffers from gastroesophageal reflux. The survey was carried out among a sample of 700 people in Attica over 14 years of age, of which 59 percent were married. The condition is caused by an abnormal relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing the stomach’s acidic contents to flow back, or «reflux,» into the esophagus. According to the institute, over half the adults in Athens and Piraeus suffer some gastric discomfort, such as dyspepsia, heartburn, acidity or bowel problems. «This is a significant percentage, since it shows that the problems in Greece are similar to those in northern Europe and the USA,» said Dimitris Karamanolis, the foundation’s general director as well as director of the Tzaneio Hospital’s Department of Gastroenterology. The reason for the increase in these kinds of problems is due to the change in Greeks’ lifestyle and diet, which are tending more and more toward that of northern Europeans. Other factors include the increase in the incidence of obesity, alcohol consumption and smoking. Obesity and age put further pressure on the sphincter; this is why the condition occurs more frequently after the age of 45. In fact the older one gets, the more likely one is to suffer from reflux. However, only one in 10 of those found to be suffering from the condition were aware of it and taking medication. An integrated approach to the condition calls for lifestyle changes, such as taking steps to improve one’s diet, losing weight, beginning exercise and restricting alcohol consumption. Nevertheless, much can be done to relieve the symptoms. The survey showed that the problem was that only 9 percent of patients were receiving therapy; most had never even consulted a doctor. The symptoms are easily mistaken for those of other conditions. «A small percentage of patients suffering from gastroesophageal reflux go to a lung specialist, as they think they are suffering from asthma,» said Karamanolis. The most common symptoms are a burning sensation in the chest or high in the stomach (heartburn), a sour sensation if the acid reflux reaches the esophagus or mouth, a tendency to vomit and a bloated sensation. There could also be pain behind the chest which is not due to heart problems, vomiting with or without blood, difficulty in passing food from the esophagus to the stomach, awakening with a feeling of suffocation, weight loss, hoarseness and a dry cough, or a shortness of breath. Patients suffering from this condition often have sleep disturbances. They need to modify their diet and daily activities and often feel exhausted. Some simple ways to reduce the intensity of the symptoms are avoiding large meals or drinking large quantities of fluids. Food should be eaten in small meals spread out over the day. One should not lie down for at least two hours after eating. The use of more than one pillow is advisable. Avoid smoking and oily or spicy foods. Losing weight can also help alleviate symptoms.