Bowel diseases and dysfunctions

Doctor talking to patient (Photo: Coloplast)
A open dialogue with doctors and medical suppliers can help a lot (Photo: Coloplast)

It is still a taboo subject: diseases of the digestive tract. Because many patients are too ashamed to see a doctor, they never get treated or too late. But there would be many possibilities.

Bowel dysfunctions and diseases are counted as diseases of civilisation and are often connected with certain types of neurogenic disabilities such as spinal cord injury, spina bifida or multiple sclerosis. Because with these illnesses, the control of the intestine is usually impaired, the consequences are either fecal incontinence or constipation.

Serious limitations in all areas of life

Ilona, 51, had a work accident which led to a complete degradation of her spine at the level of L4/L5 as well as a tailbone injury. This resulted, among other things, in an intestinal paralysis. "Because of this, I had serious limitations in all areas of life," says the pensioner. She cannot work or exercise anymore.

"In public, there are often difficulties," says Ilona, "especially for people who do not know me and get confronted with loud, rushing, gurgling bowel sounds. So I spend my time rather with people who are good for me." She uses aids such as diapers and pads. "What's important are regular check-ups and a special attention to hygiene and body care," advises Ilona.

Help with aids: medical supply stores

Medical supply stores can help with the different aids and provide detailed advice. One who is familiar with this topic is Dietmar Hegeholz. The trained nurse is head of a medical consultation service with focus on bladder and bowel dysfunctions at Coloplast, an international Danish manufacturer of medical aids and devices.

"Left untreated, the bowel dysfunction is a severe limitation in all situations of life" says Hegeholz. With fecal incontinence, the odour problem dominates, especially in children, which leads to social exclusion.

In affected individuals who suffer from constipation, however, it causes urinary tract infections as well as severe performance degradation because they feel unmotivated or quickly tired. This is only a small part of the possible consequences, explains Hegeholz: "I could list endless variations."

Heinz Süsstrunk, PhD and expert makes it clear: "The most common symptoms of intestinal dysfunction are acute/chronic pains in the abdominal area, acidified stomach, reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus, forced vomiting, nausea and bloating."

Various forms of bowel dysfunction

Hegeholz primarily thinks that a good supply of aids for creating socially acceptable circumstances is very important to avoid isolation. "Also important is a comprehensive diagnosis as well as an individualised therapy. This is the only sensible way to avoid limitations," says Hegeholz. Along with aids, there are also medical or surgical measures such as cortisone treatments or an ostomy system - an artificial anus in the abdominal wall.

Hegeholz says: "One affected person sees his/her solution in an ostomy system; the next one rejects this completely because of the destruction of his/her body image. We have so many options but they must be selected individually." That is why an open dealing with this subject is so important.

A ostomy system (Photo: Coloplast)
A ostomy system a surgical solution for bowel incontinence (Photo: Coloplast)

Chronic inflammatory bowel diseases

Even if it is not strictly seen an intestinal disorders, chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) are not less distressing for the affected people. The two most common forms are ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.

Jürgen Becher, 49, is a doctor and statistician who works as advisor and consultant for a large international insurance company. When he quitted smoking at the age of 24, he found blood in his defecation after two months. Because he scoured medical literature and found similar cases, he assumed to have ulcerative colitis (UC) and started smoking again. The symptoms disappeared.

Smoking against ulcerative colitis

"After 2 years I quit smoking again but it was getting worse with the gut and I had 10-20 times a day on the toilet," says Becher. After a colonoscopy the final diagnosis: a very severe form of ulcerative colitis. Becher could hardly leave the house. Later, he tried a cortisone and acupuncture treatment - with limited success.

Becher received the hint from a naturopathic doctor to pay attention to his diet and that he might have to change it - contrary to the orthodox medical view that diets barley help with chronic inflammatory bowel diseases. Accidently, he discovered that his suffering came from eating gluten, a protein mixture in many cereals. "Since I eat gluten-free and don’t drink black tea anymore, I am free of pains," says Becher.

Take over the responsibility for your own body

Becher also knows that so-called salicylic acid can be helpful for UC patients. "It with the most of the UC patients and there is also the possibility of being treated with cortisones," says Becher. He would, however, rather advise to take as much responsibility for your own body. "Be careful what foods work well for you and doesn’t. And don’t be impatient; it takes several weeks until the body shows any reaction to it."

The example of Becher shows: There is no universally best solution for all the bowel disorders and diseases. What helps one affected person concerned does not necessarily work for another.

How to prevent it?

Süsstrunk recommends a colonoscopy every two years because from the age of 35 the risk of developing colorectal cancer increases. "And better you get used to a stress-less life" advises Süsstrunk. "As soon as the symptoms – bowel disorders, weight loss, and/or change in skin colour – show up, go see a doctor. Get a second opinion."

Hegeholz confirms the importance of reacting quickly upon the occurrence of symptoms. Quite often a person goes to the doctor only when the suffering is too great – say, after many years. "Talk about it!" urges Hegeholz. "Take advantage of the forum of MyHandicap – then the first and most important step is already taken."

Text: TMI - 12/2010
Translation: MPL - 05/2012
Photos:, Coloplast

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