Solving digestive problems at The Greens

“Common GI Problems” was the first topic in this spring’s Community Health Series at The Greens at Cannondale. Dr. Suma Magee (pronounced McGee), gastroenterologist at Norwalk Hospital, was the presenter. Instead of dealing briefly with the entire digestive system, Dr. Magge chose to delve into two of the most prevalent and annoying conditions: acid reflux and constipation.

She started by explaining: “Acid reflux is a backflow of acid from the stomach to the esophagus, caused when the sphincter valve between the stomach and esophagus becomes loosened and stomach acid gets into the esophagus causing pressure and pain around the chest, which is why reflux is commonly called heartburn.

Hot, spicy foods, high-fat foods, fruit juices, alcohol, tobacco, chocolate, and tomato-based foods can cause acid reflux, as well as peppermint and spearmint.

“The first step I take with my patients” said Dr. Magee “is diet modification. Eliminating the irritating foods to find out which ones cause reflux. I also tell patients not to lie down for two to three hours after eating. When in bed, the head should be elevated six to eight inches, with pillows.”

Eating smaller meals may help but if reflux continues, there are medications to reduce acidity, as well as proton pump inhibitors, which limit acid production. The very last step could be surgery, the doctor said, a procedure which re-creates a working valve. After her very thorough explanation and diagrams, Dr. Magee asked: ”Was this helpful?” and nearly every hand went up.

Irregularity

The second topic, constipation, a much less-discussed subject, caused a few chuckles of embarrassment. Dr. Magee was as comfortable and informed about this subject as she was about acid reflux.

“Difficulty with defecating is what most of my patients complain about. Everyone has some constipation once in a while, but it is unhealthy when it lasts too long. It’s usually the result of a diet with minimum fiber, not enough exercise and ignoring the urge to defecate.”

Gas X and Beano are two over-the-counter products that can help reduce gas that may accompany constipation. Stool softeners are helpful. There are specific products for this but old-fashioned milk of magnesia or prune juice may work. There is a tea called “Smooth Moves” which can be very effective.

“When there is blood in the stool or pain and nausea, see your physician,” she said. “You may require a colonoscopy to see if there is blockage, lesions or pre-cancerous cells in the colon.”

The open discussion of intimate physical problems and the calm, confident answers from Dr. Magee made this meeting of The Greens Community Health Series a positive and helpful experience. Future topics are “Eat Well, Live Well” presented by Barbara Schmidt, nutrition lifestyle specialist, on Wednesday, April 16; “Prevention of Stroke” on April 30 with Mary N. Galasinsky, ortho/neuro/rehab clinical educator and stroke coordinator; “Coping with Stress and Anxiety” with Lateef Habib, clinical coordinator, Outpatient Service, Behavioral Health on May 7. All presenters are from Norwalk Hospital.

Dinner begins at 5:30, with the presentation at 6:15. The series is free at The Greens at Cannondale, 435 Danbury Road. RSVP to 203-761-1191.