Summer-ready: Feeling good about your GI symptoms

(BPT) – With summer in full swing, people across the country are hitting the beaches, pools and barbeques, sipping lemonade and sporting shorts. However, for those living with gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, summer may present some challenges beyond how to keep cool, like feeling anxious about where the nearest bathrooms are located. What they might not realize, though, is that they don’t have to suffer in silence. These symptoms could be caused by an under-recognized and underdiagnosed condition known as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), which is manageable with the right treatment plan prescribed by a doctor.

For those with EPI, the pancreas doesn’t make or secrete enough digestive enzymes for proper digestion to take place. Symptoms associated with EPI can include diarrhea, gas, bloating, stomach pain, frequent bowel movements and unexplained weight loss. Although some of these symptoms may be fairly common, they can be very disruptive to peoples’ lives. Symptoms of EPI can vary, but if you have one or more of these symptoms, you should talk to your doctor. So if you are dealing with frustration due to your GI symptoms, you are not alone. In fact, the person next to you right now may be feeling the very same way. According to a national online survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults conducted in 2013 by Harris Interactive, 73 percent of U.S. adults suffering from these GI symptoms struggle with feelings of frustration.

“Summer is my favorite time of year, but my GI symptoms can make it challenging,” says Julie DeBois, a person living with EPI.

Here are a few ideas from Dr. Roshini Rajapaksa – a gastroenterologist at NYU Medical Center/Tisch Hospital in New York City, author and television personality – for living with symptoms possibly related to GI-related conditions such as EPI. “While general tips can be very helpful, you should also speak directly with your physician about your GI symptoms and EPI,” she advises.

Dr. Raj recommends:

Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. If plain water doesn’t satisfy you, flavor it with fresh fruit such as strawberries or mangoes. After you finish the water, you have a light, healthy snack to nibble on.

Decide on a dietary plan with your doctor and try to stick to it, even when it may be tempting to reach for whatever foods are most convenient. This may be especially difficult when on vacation or involved in outdoor activities, but keep in mind that proper nutrition is an important component of managing your symptoms. Plan ahead and leave the house prepared with snacks that have been approved by your doctor or nutritionist to ensure that you’re always able to keep to your diet, no matter the situation.

When traveling to new places, plan ahead for digestive emergencies. You should pack a “backup plan” bag that includes pre-moistened travel wipes, a travel pack of toilet paper, an extra pair of underwear/bathing suit, your physician’s phone number and/or email address, research on the nearest bathroom to the area you will be occupying, as well as healthy snacks and water.

Relieving stress and exercising. Eighty-three percent of those surveyed agree that GI symptoms may become more pronounced when a person is under stress, and a healthy, productive way to relieve stress is to exercise. Exercise not only relieves stress, but it also encourages normal contractions of your intestines. Be sure to discuss exercise regimens with your doctor before getting started to find an activity that is appropriate for you. If running or lifting weights isn’t appealing, a fun way to introduce exercise to your summer routine is to bring a soccer ball or Frisbee on your outing and work out with a friend.

Most importantly… talk to your doctor. More than half of U.S. adults surveyed have not spoken to their primary care doctor about their GI discomfort because they do not feel that their symptoms warrant medical attention. It is important to work together with your physician to develop a treatment plan!

For more information about EPI, please visit www.IdentifyEPI.com.

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