Even before your feet could touch the floor from a dining room chair, your family dinners were most likely a schooling in table etiquette, complete with a litany of dinner table do’s and don’ts.
- Do place your napkin in your lap.
- Don’t slurp your soup.
- Do chew with your mouth shut.
- Don’t put your elbows on the table.
- Do take breaks between bites.
- Don’t discuss anything relating to your trips to the restroom.
That last one especially rang true. Bowel movements, vomiting, diarrhea, urine, flatulence, and other digestive issues are best omitted from conversation when people are trying to, well, digest.
Of course, these aren’t things you typically want to discuss. Embarrassing, awkward, and unflattering are words that immediately come to mind.
But just because you leave them out of table talk doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring issues and concerns to your physician, especially in the list to follow. These symptoms could point directly to serious — even deadly — digestive issues.
Regurgitation of fluid or food
What it could be: Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or a narrowing in the esophagus, which could be a tumor.
A healthy esophagus is about an inch in diameter, allowing food to pass through rather easily, says Armond Schwartz, MD, AGAF, director of the division of gastroenterology at Methodist Dallas Medical Center. “When it narrows to half an inch or less, food can stick in the chest, causing chest pain or reflux. One thing that could be causing that narrowing is a tumor.”
The acid reflux is often managed with an over-the-counter drug, but if it persists, it can wear down the esophagus.
You’re especially at risk for a tumor if you already have GERD or have a high tobacco or alcohol intake.
Diarrhea or fecal incontinence
What it could be: Colitis.
Colitis is the inflammation of the colon with multiple sores in the lining. “It can lead to weight loss, anemia, malnutrition, and other infections, all of which could be fatal,” Dr. Schwartz says. “In rare cases, it can lead to colon cancer.”
Gynecomastia (enlarged male breasts)
What it could be: Sign of liver disease.
“Liver disease affects much more than the liver,” Dr. Schwartz says. For example, in men it can affect the testicles. “What results is a decrease in the balance of male-to-female hormones, causing the breasts to enlarge.”
Greasy, floating stools
What it could be: Diseases of the pancreas — possibly cancer.
Your pancreas produces an enzyme that breaks down food flowing from the stomach into the intestine. But if that duct is blocked, possibly by a tumor, your body is unable to digest fatty foods. You end up with these floaters that produce an odor from all the excess fat.
“This is a clear indication that something is wrong with the pancreas and a sign that patients often overlook,” Dr. Schwartz says. “As strange as it sounds, it’s worth taking a peek at your stool and urine to identify changes in appearance and odor that might indicate a more serious condition.”
Fortunately, you don’t have to live with the embarrassment — or the fear of a greater health concern. Turn to the next page to learn about the brand-new Methodist Digestive Institute at Methodist Dallas.
Find answers to questions about your digestive health by calling 214-947-6296 for a referral to a gastroenterologist at Methodist Health System.