Wunian Chen, MD, LAc, September 30, 2016
The mind and body function together to operate; often one is affected when the other is out of sync. Such is the case with difficult-to-diagnose functional disorders. Understanding what these disorders are, and what they are not, can help bring a holistic awareness to your overall health, and it can also help prevent further damage or discomfort to the physical and mental aspects of your well-being.
What are Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders?
Functional gastrointestinal disorders, or FGIDs, occur when there is abnormal function in the gastrointestinal tract. Many routine tests such as blood tests, endoscopic exams and X-rays may not show any signs because the dysfunction is not caused by structural or biochemical issues; it is caused by a disconnect between the brain and gut. As such, functional gastrointestinal disorders are diagnosed by symptoms that occur in various parts of the GI tract.
Understanding Functional Diarrhea
Functional diarrhea occurs when a person has chronic watery or loose stool consistently over three to six months. Though not always so, it is typically caused by changes in fluid absorption and irregular movement patterns in the intestines. To diagnose functional diarrhea, a physician has to consider, treat or rule out several other key factors that may aggravate the condition, including:
- Bacterial overgrowth in the gastrointestinal tract
- Dietary habits
- Stress levels
To offset functional diarrhea, dietary changes like the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast) can help with making stool firmer. There are mixed thoughts regarding increasing fiber intake, as that may cause issues with constipation. Physicians may also recommend a probiotic to replace good bacteria that may have been lost in the gastrointestinal tract.
Understanding Functional Constipation
Functional constipation occurs when a person has extreme difficulty passing stool for three to six months. For individuals with this and other gastrointestinal disorders using the bathroom will typically mean experiencing discomfort, such as:
- Reduced stool frequency (fewer than three bowel movements in a week)
- Difficulty with bowel movements
- Lumpy or hard stool
There are no set understandings about what causes functional constipation. Slow bowel transit may cause hardening in the intestines, creating much harder and less lubricated stool. Studies have also suggested that anxiety and depression can increase complications of functional constipation.
As with functional diarrhea, changing your diet may help offset some of the symptoms. Also, increasing water intake will help with stool transit through the gastrointestinal tract. Eating more vegetables and exercising regularly can help as well.
Irritable bowel syndrome is extremely similar to diarrhea and constipation with respect to its symptoms. However, one notable difference is that abdominal pain persists when IBS is present. Statistically, IBS affects 10-20 percent of all adults at some time in their lives. Symptoms of IBS include:
- Frequent bathroom urges
As with diarrhea and constipation, IBS symptoms can be reduced by changing your diet and monitoring fiber and sugar intake. Increasing your consumption of fruits and vegetables can also potentially alleviate some symptoms of IBS.
If you are experiencing gastrointestinal disorders such as functional diarrhea, constipation or IBS, contact us to make an appointment. Based on your symptoms, we can create and execute integrative medicine solutions specifically for you. Acupuncture Balanced Health practices integrated programs to help rid your body of functional diseases. Our dedicated team of experts is committed to helping you find relief from your symptoms.