For this issue's Q&A feature, Better Health turned to Dr. Veerakit Apirathprachasilpa, a board-certified specialist in gastroenterology and hepatology. He offers his expert advice to answer readers' questions about digestive health issues.
Q: I'm interested to try the colon cleansing procedure called coffee detoxification. Is it considered safe, and are there any side effects?
A: The body's natural digestive system does an excellent job processing and removing waste, so colon cleansing isn't usually necessary except in some medical situations, such as in preparation for specific surgical or diagnostic procedures such as a colonoscopy. It's also a treatment option for chronic constipation.
While there's little evidence to show any health benefits, colon detoxification does pose some health risks and potential side effects. Patients with intestinal problems such as weakness of the colon wall and patients with diverticulitis (the formation of pouches on the outer colon wall) have a higher risk of a colon rupture due to the increase in pressure inside the colon that occurs during the cleansing process. In addition, the insertion of the cleansing tube into the rectum has been shown to cause injury to some.
For patients with kidney or heart disorders, colon cleansing poses an elevated health risk due to changes in body fluids and electrolytes caused by colon cleansing. It's also important to be aware of the risk of a caffeine overdose, as the body absorbs a much higher than normal amount of caffeine during the coffee detoxification procedure.
Q: After meals, I've been having stomach cramps, gas pain and nausea, sometimes to the point where I end up vomiting. It's been going on for almost a week. What might be causing this, and what should I do to feel better?
A: There are a number of digestive disorders that cause symptoms like you've experienced, including viral infections, ulcers and gastroparesis (a condition fairly common in young, healthy adults that hinders the stomach's normal digestion and prevents food from moving through the digestive system). Gastroparesis typically lasts about one week, sometimes longer. Viral infections are quite easy to contract and usually clear up on their own.
Both gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and the H. pylori bacterial infection can cause stomach ulcers. Since your symptoms have continued for almost a week, you should see your doctor, as he or she is best able to diagnose the cause of your symptoms and recommend the best course of treatment.
Q: What should I do if I notice blood in my stool?
A: Blood in the stool usually indicates bleeding in the intestine. The color of the blood and the stool can help trace the source of the bleeding. A stool with a bloody red color points to bleeding close to the anus, usually from hemorrhoids, anal fissures, or a rupture of the colon wall. Other possible causes include polyps and irritable bowel syndrome.
A darker or tar-like color usually means the bleeding source is deeper inside the intestine. You should always consult a doctor if you notice blood in your stool, and inform your doctor of other symptoms or bowel problems you may be experiencing, such as recent weight loss, constipation or diarrhea.
Have a question? You can submit your question for possible inclusion in future issues of Better Health, by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Editor, Better Health Magazine, Bumrungrad International, 33 Sukhumvit 3, Wattana, Bangkok 10110 Thailand.