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Avoid complications by treating chronic constipation early

Updated February 12, 2021

Constipation tends to be more common in women and may get worse with age.


 Image: © krisanapong detraphiphat/Getty Images

Like gray hair and wrinkles, constipation is something you're more likely to experience as you age. "Constipation is a very common complaint; mild irregularity is probably even more prevalent," says Dr. Judy Nee, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. "Women are more likely than men to be constipated."

More than one in three adults ages 60 and older have experienced constipation symptoms, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Constipation is typically defined as having fewer than three bowel movements a week; having stool that is hard, dry, and difficult to pass; or feeling that you aren't able to void completely when you use the bathroom.

How to get more probiotics

Updated August 24, 2020

There are two ways to get more good bacteria into your gut: fermented foods and dietary supplements. Fermented foods are the most natural source. Probiotic supplements, which are typically sold over the counter, are reserved to treat specific ailments as suggested by your doctor, and not recommended for everyday use. Plus, supplements do not have the same FDA oversight as medications do.

So, a big question remains: How  many probiotic foods do you need? That's not easy to answer.

Putting a stop to leaky gut

Updated December 1, 2018

What can you do about this mysterious ailment?


 Image: © SasinParaksa/Getty Images

Leaky gut has not received the attention it deserves, in large part because it remains a medical mystery.

"Part of the reason is that the gut is such a complex system, and science continues to find new ways that the gut can influence everything from heart health to keeping our brains young," says Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. "There is much we know about leaky gut in terms of how it affects people's health, but there is still so much that is unknown."

What’s causing that belly bloat?

Updated October 13, 2020

Underlying causes, plus food and sensory responses, can lead to distention and discomfort.


 Image: © Thunderstock/Getty Images

You just finished a meal, but the meal isn't quite finished with you. It's causing an uncomfortable bloated feeling and the perception that you suddenly have a big belly that lasts for hours. And it's not just your imagination. "Very quickly it can make you look like you have a bit of a pooch. There's an enlargement of the abdomen and a sensation of distention," explains Dr. Kyle Staller, a gastroenterologist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

But the cause of belly bloat is often hard to pin down.

Heartburn vs. heart attack

Updated February 12, 2021

The symptoms of these two health problems may overlap — and sometimes, so do the treatments.

During your regular after-dinner walk around the neighborhood, you feel a painful sensation in the center of your chest. Could it be your heartburn flaring up again, or something more serious?

Heartburn is a common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), often called acid reflux. Acid from the stomach bubbles up into the esophagus, causing a painful burning just behind the breastbone. Not surprisingly, it's often mistaken for a heart attack. In fact, of the over eight million emergency room visits for chest pain each year, severe heartburn accounts for over half the cases in which actual heart problems are ruled out.

Are eating disorders just a teen problem?

Updated November 1, 2018

Ask the doctors

Q. My sister, who is in her 50s, has always been very weight-conscious, but she recently went through a divorce and now seems unnaturally fixated on her weight and dieting. She's lost a substantial amount of weight. I've always thought of eating disorders as something that affects teenagers, but is it possible that she has one?

A. It is possible that your sister is suffering from an eating disorder, because they can affect people of any age, including older women, according to the American Psychiatric Association. They may be prompted by stress or a life change, such as a divorce. Signs that may indicate that a person has an eating disorder are

11 stomach-soothing steps for heartburn

Updated October 13, 2020

Heartburn, that uncomfortable burning sensation that radiates up the middle of the chest, is the most common digestive malady. It's the result of a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), often called acid reflux, in which stomach acid leaks upward from the stomach into the esophagus.

While heartburn should not be ignored, there are many stomach-soothing steps you can try before going to a doctor. These can help cool your symptoms and prevent bigger problems later on. 

Common causes of constipation

Updated February 15, 2021

Many factors can dispose a person to constipation. Some can easily be prevented by changing habits and lifestyle (although the role of lifestyle factors may not be as important as once thought). Often, the cause has to do with physiological problems or diseases.

Following are the more common causes of constipation:

Lack of exercise. People who exercise regularly generally don't develop constipation. Basically, the colon responds to activity. Good muscle tone in general is important for regular bowel movements. The abdominal wall muscles and the diaphragm all play a crucial role in the process of defecation. If these muscles are weak, they're not going to be able to do the job as well. But exercise is not a cure-all. Increasing exer-cise to improve constipation may be more effective in older people, who tend to be more sedentary, than in younger people.

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