Maintaining Digestive Health In Men
Men can easily suffer from digestive ailments, including diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, and heartburn. In fact, it is estimated that a quarter of all men suffer from some type of abdominal pain or digestive difficulty.
Men are relatively spared from some conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome, which is more common among women they can still have digestive problems that interfere with daily living.
Acid Reflux Disease in Men
Acid reflux disease is a condition in which the valve that keeps stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus at the gastroesophageal junction fails to work. Acid comes up into the esophagus, leading to a burning type of chest pain, a bad taste in the throat and mouth, and acid regurgitation. Most people know this condition as “heartburn.”
Risk factors for heartburn include the following:
- Eating a heavy meal
- Lying down too soon after a meal
- Taking in too much caffeine
- Drinking alcohol
- Eating greasy or spicy foods
Heartburn can be partially relieved by lifestyle factors, including avoidance of caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, caffeinated beverages, and eating at least two hours before lying down.
Some treatments for heartburn include:
- Liquid antacids like Maalox or Mylanta
- Chewable antacids like TUMS
- Histamine-2 blockers like Pepcid and Zantac
- Proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec or Nexium
If medications don’t help the problem, there is surgery to create a new flap that can keep acid from coming up into the esophagus. The procedure, called a laparoscopic Nissen fundoplication can reduce the risk of heartburn complications and decrease the amount of medications you have to take in order to manage the symptoms of heartburn. Untreated heartburn can lead to esophageal cancer in high-risk individuals.
Peptic Ulcer Disease
Ulcers occur in the stomach or duodenum and involve erosions into the lining of the digestive tract that are painful and may bleed. Peptic ulcer disease is more common in men than in women although the reason for this is not clear. The ratio of men to women who have peptic ulcer disease is 2:1.
Common symptoms of peptic ulcer disease are a pain in the upper abdomen that can be severe enough to awaken a man from sleep. Ulcers are caused by a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori that causes ulcers when the individual becomes infected by the bacterium.
Overuse of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin can contribute to getting the disease. If the ulcer is not treated, the acid from the stomach can erode into the lining of the stomach and, in some cases, can erode all the way through the stomach wall. This can be a surgical emergency.
The treatment of peptic ulcer disease involves taking proton pump inhibitors like Nexium or Prilosec along with antibiotics to clear up the infection. It can take many months to heal the ulcer.
In the meantime, the man with PUD must eat several small meals a day to dilute out the stomach acid and must avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. The diet you eat does not have to be bland as there is no evidence that spicy foods worsen peptic ulcer disease.
Constipation in Men
Constipation can be a problem in men of any age. It can result in a lack of a sizable bowel movement for many days, and discomfort and cramping pain in the lower abdomen. Constipation is triggered by eating a diet deficient in fiber, having a lack of physical activity, certain medications, and stressful situations.
The standard treatment of constipation is the judicious use of laxatives, a high fiber diet, and the use of stool softeners. Laxatives can be “addicting” so they shouldn’t be used often. Fiber in the diet will bulk up the stool so that it travels faster through the gastrointestinal tract.
Try to eat at least 38 grams of fiber if you are younger than 50 years of age and 30 grams of fiber if you are over the age of 50.
Fiber can be obtained from bran cereals, nuts, fruits, vegetables, whole-wheat items, and beans. If this fails to control your constipation or if you begin to develop more pain or a distended abdomen, seek medical advice as something more serious might be going on.
Diarrhea in Men
Common causes of diarrhea are medication reactions and food poisoning. When you have diarrhea, you can develop stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting. If it is due to food poisoning, it can happen 6-72 hours after eating a food containing a gastrointestinal bacterium or virus. Most food poisoning is the result of bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella or campylobacter.
Fortunately, these are often self-limited conditions where recovery occurs after one to two days. No treatment is necessary in most cases and medications for diarrhea, like Lomotil, Kaopectate, and Imodium, can make the infection last longer.
It is better to drink frequent sips of some kind of clear beverage, especially those that contain electrolytes that will keep you hydrated while the infection is cleared from your system. If the symptoms last longer than two days or if you have a fever, seek medical advice as this may indicate the presence of a severe infection.