How Long Does Food Stay In My Gut

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Imagine this: You attend your nephew's wedding. It's great to see the family, but later that night you can't get rid of that gnawing, burning feeling behind your breastbone. Or you eat some fresh fruit in a foreign country. For the next few days you pay the price with bouts of diarrhea and gas. Maybe you're anxiously planning a big dinner party, and by the day of the event, your stomach feels sour and your intestines are churning.

For most people, such episodes of gastrointestinal upset are infrequent and relatively tolerable, the consequence of an intestinal bug, a trip to a foreign land, or excessive holiday feasting. But one in four people has frequent gastrointestinal (GI) problems that can severely disrupt a normal lifestyle. These sufferers may endure any combination of symptoms such as painful stomach cramps, a gnawing discomfort in the abdomen, a burning sensation behind the breastbone, an uncomfortable feeling of fullness, belching, bloating, nausea, gas, diarrhea, or constipation, on and off for months or even years at a time. Such people often undergo unpleasant and sometimes unnecessary medical tests, spend a king's ransom on questionable cures, and miss countless days of work.

Though the misery that such problems inflict is real, they aren't usually the product of an illness. Rather, they are functional gastrointestinal disorders. That means, unlike ulcers or stomach cancer, they can't be attributed to an infection or physical abnormality. More than 20% of people who consult a gastroenterologist learn that there's no medical explanation for their complaints.

Just because doctors may not be able to pin down an organic cause — meaning that there's no evidence of a structural, biochemical, or infectious basis for the symptoms — patients shouldn't blame themselves for their problems. The symptoms — stomach discomfort, bloating, fullness, belching, or burning — are real.

Despite the limits of medical treatment in this area, people plagued by GI distress can definitely be helped. This report focuses on a number of disorders considered functional: gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), functional dyspepsia (FD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, diarrhea, and excessive gas.

Although these maladies sound different, they cause similar problems and overlapping symptoms. Despite the sometimes imposing names, they usually aren't serious or life-threatening. But they can cause pain, discomfort, and disruption in lifestyle. If the symptoms occur frequently or last more than a month, it's advisable to seek help.

While there is, unfortunately, no tried-and-true cure for a sensitive gut, help is available. In particular, people plagued by GI distress can benefit from a better understanding of their symptoms. With proper knowledge they can worry less and focus on changes in diet or lifestyle that ease the discomfort and make it easier to cope. A good working relationship with your doctor is important too. He or she can help you identify the lifestyle changes and management options that make the most sense for you.

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