R. Sujatha

Stress, long hours of starvation, compound the problem

crimes against women and children

CHENNAI: Chaotic eating patterns, stress and long hours of starvation, interspersed with consumption of oily food, smoking and excess alcohol intake are getting to be common problems among youngsters.

What the doctors call reflux is seen these days more among people in the 20-40 age group. The symptoms include heartburn or cramping pain in the chest and regurgitation of food consumed.

Smoking and alcohol consumption aggravate the problem. It is doubly serious when oily foods form a large part of a meal. Most of those who suffer remain untreated face the threat of even cancer.

As with other diseases, statistics are hard to come by. "Plenty of case studies are available in the West. I see a lot of patients who suffer from reflux problem but do not necessarily come up to the stage of requiring surgery," says gastroenterologist Ravindra Kumaren.

Reflux is a condition where the consumed food is regurgitated. Though everyone at some point of time experience this kind of symptom, some people suffer constantly but remain unaware. They identify it as `heartburn' or burning sensation in the breastbone. Others call it a `gastric' problem.

"Those who can predict that they are about to regurgitate need surgery," says the surgeon. The Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) "is a common problem involving the junction between stomach and the oesophagus (food pipe). Some GERD patients are at a higher risk for food pipe cancer." Persons with late onset of asthma and sore throat are likely sufferers.

Asthma and GERD can co-exist, says allergy specialist R. Narasimhan. Sometimes bronchial asthma can manifest as nausea, vomiting sensation and dry cough. Others suffer from runny and itching of the nose. Dry coughing bouts and resulting breathlessness could be due to GERD, says Dr. Narasimhan. Such patients are said to suffer from `gastric asthma.'

Temporary relief

Tablets such as digene and gelusil, available over counter drugs, stop reflux by neutralising the acid. "At any time, at least five per cent of the general population need medication to suppress acid. It starts with simple medicines and goes up to Rantac (a stronger dose specifically for acid suppression). These medicines were once used to cure ulcers," says Dr. Kumaren.

When people take medication for reflux the perception of heartburn reduces. They may stop medication for three weeks and feel good but at this point acid secretion in the stomach is back to normal and reflux continues. A small group that is continuously dependent on medication for the condition will need surgery, he says.

Oncologist S. Subramanian says fried, salted food, with a large dose of pickles, a common side dish in Indian meals, is a combination that could lead to the cancers of colon, pancreas or stomach. "That is why we have more stomach cancers in India. Ninety per cent of the cancers are caused by the environment. Only 10 per cent is genetic."

He says, "Pre-cooked food irritates the linings of the colon. The residue is small and the roughage is low. As a result, the bowel movement is affected, leading to more problems."