That ‘Thing’ Nobody Talks About

Tricia Levasseur
6 min readNov 29, 2023
Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Medical statistics show that as a society, people find it uncomfortable to talk about gastrointestinal (GI) issues. But here’s the challenge with that uneasiness: the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) says 60–70 million Americans suffer from GI issues.

That staggering figure means that even if nobody’s talking about ‘toilet troubles’, if 70 million people are having uncomfortable GI systems out of a population of nearly 334 million, if you have digestive discomfort, you’re actually not alone.

The Rise in Digestive Disorders:

There’s no one clear reason why discomfort appears to be on the rise. Some studies say the ‘American Diet’ is a huge factor because it is high in carbohydrates, refined sugar, processed foods, toxic seed oils, and typically lower in fiber. This type of diet anywhere in the world, typically referred to under the general term ‘Western Diet’, provides the conditions that allow gut dysbiosis to spark (gut microbiome imbalance) and this then can also lead to poorer immune health.

Usage of Antibiotics Enabling Digestive Conditions:

Other research suggests its tied to the rise in use of antibiotics and in particular, overuse of antibiotics. One hundred years ago infectious diseases were a leading killer of humans. But with the invention of antibiotics, this is no longer the same level of threat. Instead, its overuse of these drugs that’s opening the door to other conditions because gut microbiomes are being depleted. In my opinion, one of the best books written by a medical doctor on the use of antibiotics (the good and the bad) is Dr. Martin Blaser’s best seller, ‘Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics is Fueling Modern Plagues’. Where was this book when many of us were in high school health class?

COVID-19 Infections and Gastrointestional Issues:

And the most recent research also shows that perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic is also to blame. Medical research shows that during the pandemic the prevalence of GI symptoms was significantly higher during the 2020 lockdowns than under normal circumstances the year before. This increase has been attributed to increased numbers of patients with disorders of the gut-brain-interaction, and effect that was associated with anxiety.

Long COVID Syndrome and Post-Infectious IBS:

Then there are the studies that also show having a serious COVID-19 infection did attack some people’s guts too. Acute gastrointestinal side effects have been well reported worldwide with COVID-19 infection and are estimated to affect around 17% of patients. But the GI discomfort doesn’t end for all immediately following a COVID infection. Medical researchers have found that gastrointestinal symptoms are common six months after contracting COVID-19. Post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can occur following bacterial and viral infections, and SARS-CoV-2 is now appreciated as an enteric pathogen. For people who have a diagnosis of Long COVID Syndrome, GI issues that patients say are disruptive to daily life persist, according to the Mayo Clinic.

And the list of reasons for why digestive discomfort is on the rise, continues.

Conditions that Categorize as GI Issues:

Gastrointestinal diseases affect your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, from mouth to anus. There are two types: functional and structural.

Functional Gastrointestinal Conditions:
Functional issues cover conditions where the GI tract looks normal when examined but does not move properly. Functional problems are the most common gastrointestinal issues. For example, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), bloating, gas, diarrhea, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Many factors can upset the GI tract and its ability to keep moving properly including:
* Not eating enough fiber
* Stress
* Ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
* Not getting enough exercise
* Traveling or other changes in routine
* Taking certain medications, especially antidepressants, iron pills and strong pain medications
* Pregnancy

Structural Gastrointestinal Conditions:
Structural gastrointestinal diseases are when bowels look abnormal during examination and also do not work properly. Sometimes medication can fix the issue, but other times surgery may be necessary. Examples of abnormalities include a colonoscopy’s camera being able to see bleeding ulcers, inflammation or tumors.

Examples for when surgical options might be needed are in diagnoses where there are unmanageable hemorrhoids, complicated diverticular disease, strictures (narrowing of a bowel section preventing food from passing through), colon polyps or cancerous tumors. Celiac disease, also known as gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is a structural condition. Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease (CD) are also considered structural diseases.

Preventing Gastrointestinal Diseases:

Most gastrointestinal conditions are not inherited or genetic, although, some conditions might be more likely to occur in some families if one person already has the diagnosis. Many intestinal diseases can be prevented or minimized by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, practicing good bowel habits and getting screened for bowel cancer, especially once a person reaches the recommended age for regular preventative screenings.

How To Better Manage GI Discomfort:

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I have volunteered as a Patient Advocate focused on GI and abdominal surgery. I have spent a lot of time with people experiencing severe gastrointestinal disease including colon cancer, inflammatory bowel diseases (both UC and Crohn’s) plus IBS.

Sadly, for many people with a GI diagnosis, there is no known cure. IBS does not have a cure. IBD including both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, also do not have a cure (at the time of publication of this article). This means doctors can only best aim to manage symptoms while enabling the person to live the highest quality of life possible in the circumstances. Treating GI issues is largely about providing quality of life.

Daily Trackers for IBS, IBD, Colon Cancer and Others:

My research has led me to develop a manual and daily tracker with built in analysis to help people with GI symptoms work together with practitioners to reach a diagnosis and then treat it with the aim of not only improving physical health but well-being and overall quality of life too. Weekly and monthly analysis allow for results to be regularly measured for success and based on the data, treatment plans can be adjusted while underway to try and improve results. This helps avoid long delays between treatment prescription and revision if it needs to be adjusted to produce a better result.

Measuring Effectiveness of IBS or IBD Treatments:

Success of GI treatment plans in my ‘Wellness Diary for Digestive Discomfort’ are measured by analyzing six key quality of life indicators that matter to people with discomfort plus the scientific statistics doctors need to know including number of movements per day and quality of that movement. For example, profound diarrhea might indicate infection or severe inflammation from disease, however, it is also a high-risk factor for loss of electrolytes which can led to an emergency life-threatening health situation that can trigger heart failure in extreme cases.

Meanwhile, having severe constipation might be a sign of not eating enough fiber or it could also be a symptom of inflammation in the bowel causing it to narrow and slow the passage of food waste. It could also mean a tumor is blocking evacuation.

At the same time, while urgent diarrhea might limit a person from being more social outside of the house, constipation might limit partner intimacy due to pelvic or abdominal pains. If being social or having an intimate partner is important, managing doctors needs to know so they can aim to help control systems that would enable people to do more of what they value for a high quality of life.

Daily Trackers, Logs and Journals for IBS, IBD, Others:

In Wellness Diary for Digestive Discomfort: An Essential Manual and Daily Tracker to Better Manage IBS, IBD, Celiac and other Gastrointestinal Conditions, a symptom diary, bowel movement log and food journal help guide both patient and practitioners to assess the situation. Multiple factors are recorded daily across food consumption, bowel movements, symptoms plus quality of life indicators. These factors are analyzed weekly and monthly.

Digestive Discomfort by Tricia Levasseur©: Multiple Pages for Tracking and Analysis Sections ©.

Wellness Diary for Digestive Discomfort: Essential Manual and Daily Tracker to Better Manage IBS, IBD, Celiac, and other Gastrointestinal Conditions” can be found easily worldwide on Amazon under ASIN: 1838233067 or ISBN: 978–1838233068 or elsewhere. A book details page that is universal for Amazon that will direct to the site for the geographic location someone is logging in from is provided here: www.azonlinks.com/1838233067

Note: The links I have included for research sources plus Dr. Blaser’s “Missing Microbes” book as well as my own book for better managing digestive discomfort are not affiliate links.

Cambridge MBA | Healthcare Marketing Consultant | Speaker | Author
Follow me on Medium and Twitter @CambridgeTricia

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Tricia Levasseur

Healthcare Exec combining Storytelling & Digital Technology. Patient Advocate. Former Bloomberg Journalist. Cambridge MBA. amazon.com/author/tricialevasseur