“Gastric” literally means “of the stomach”. About 62% of Malaysians experience gastric symptoms, medically known as gastritis, due to inflammation of the stomach lining. This happens when the protective mucosal barrier of the stomach is compromised and unable to protect the stomach lining from its own acids.
The 5 Most Common Gastric Symptoms
Gastric sufferers typically experience the following five symptoms more frequently than others.
1. Abdominal pain
The top complaint among gastric sufferers is abdominal pain, usually in the upper abdomen, just below the rib cage. Diana (not her real name), a 74-year-old retiree, recalls a “piercing pain in the stomach” when her gastric problem flares up. Bala Selvadurai, 48, VP of Operations for a telecommunications company, recalls pain near his chest and stomach area that is so persistent, it interrupts his sleep, causing great stress.
2. Bloating and belching
Bloating is a feeling of fullness accompanied by a distended stomach and belching. Wanie Zaid, a 38-year-old businesswoman who began experiencing gastric symptoms a year ago, shares that she had difficulty breathing during an attack, especially when trying to take a deep breath. “Sometimes the tightness was so severe that I thought I was having a heart attack,” she recalls.
Burning pain at the top of the stomach, chest, and sometimes even the throat, also known as heartburn, is another common symptom. Acidic stomach juices flow up the opening of the stomach, burning the oesophageal (food pipe) lining when you eat too quickly or lie down too soon after a meal. You may also experience a sour taste in the mouth.
4. Nausea (along with vomiting or diarrhoea)
Another very common symptom of gastric is nausea that can be accompanied by vomiting, and sometimes also diarrhoea. In severe cases of gastritis, bleeding may occur in the stomach. The blackish blood in the vomit, which looks like coffee grounds, is due to acids in the stomach. Blood in your stool may also cause faeces to appear maroon or black in colour.
5. Poor appetite
A loss of appetite is the fifth major sign stemming from the above symptoms. This often signals that the stomach environment is out of balance. However, poor appetite can also be partly psychological.
Do take note that gastric ulcers and cancer also cause similar symptoms. If your symptoms persist for a long time, consult with your physician to ensure they are not caused by more severe illnesses.
Relieving Gastric Symptoms
As there are different types of gastritis, your doctor will prescribe treatments depending on what’s causing it. Most people are able to resolve their gastric problems easily with the right treatment. Therefore, it is important to get a proper diagnosis before self-medicating with over-the-counter medication.
Antacids are usually prescribed to help neutralise an overly acidic stomach. They provide quick relief of symptoms and are readily available in pharmacies.
Another way to combat too much stomach acid is to reduce its production using medicines called proton pump inhibitors like omeprazole and pantoprazole as well as H2 histamine blockers. However, keep in mind that these medicines cause adverse effects if taken continuously. If they don’t relieve your symptoms, do a complete health check-up to rule out other causes.
If your gastric attack is due to a Helicobacter pylori bacterial infection, which accounts for 25% of gastritis cases in Malaysia, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics alongside the above medicines.
Edlyn (not her real name), a 49-year-old academic, says it was nearly impossible to work when her symptoms were flaring up. “But ever since the H. pylori diagnosis and treatment, I rarely have gastric pain symptoms anymore,” she adds.
TCM Physician Sam Ng Teck Xian states that gastric pain is caused by imbalances in the stomach and lack of nourishment, resulting in upper abdominal pain. It is also a common illness closely related to the liver, spleen, and stomach.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are five types of gastric pain which produce different symptoms:
- Dysfunction of stomach and liver: bloated and painful stomach, tightness, and pain in the chest and hypochondrium, symptoms aggravated by worries and pressure, frequent sighing
- Stasis and stagnation: epigastric pain that feels like needle poking or knife cutting into the stomach, pain in fixed areas, pain when the abdomen is pressed, pain that worsens after eating[Text Wrapping Break]
- Food stagnation: often caused by overeating, resulting in bloating, abdominal tenderness, vomiting indigestible food, poor appetite; individuals usually feel much better after defecation
- Deficiency of spleen and stomach: dull pain in the stomach, aversion to cold and preference for warmth or warm food, cold hands and feet, symptoms occur or worsen after experiencing fatigue or catching a cold
- Damp-heat in spleen and stomach: stomach feels warm, pain in the stomach, dry and bitter mouth, yellow urine, constipation
Herbal decoctions such as Ban Xia Xie Xin have been shown in research studies to be effective in treating gastric symptoms specific to disharmonies between the stomach and the spleen. These studies show that the decoctions work just as well as conventional medicines.
Research also states that acupuncture and moxibustion work to alleviate gastric symptoms. TCM establishes that these therapies work by increasing the flow of qi (vital life energy) via the meridians, thereby harmonising the imbalances that have given rise to the symptoms.
Diet and eating habits
One of the biggest culprits that can set off a gastric episode is not having a regular eating schedule. For those suffering from frequent gastric pain, it’s crucial to have a balanced meal plan comprising nutritious food. It’s also best to avoid spicy, oily, fried, cold, and raw foods.
Herbal soups can help as well. Physician Ng recommends Sishen or Four Herbs Soup, which nourishes the spleen and stomach, or Dang Gui Jian Pi Qing Bu Soup, which replenishes qi as well nourishes the spleen, yin (passive energy), and blood. Liu Wei Tang or Performance Tonic Soup can also ease this condition.
Formulations containing phytonutrients and enzymes from vegetables and fruits can help relieve symptoms and aid digestion. Additionally, Bu Qi Jian Zhong pills and Xiang Sha Yang Wei Wan (香砂养胃丸), which contain a combination of Chinese herbs, are good remedies for indigestion, flatulence, and diarrhoea. Physician Sam also recommends taking a tablespoon of Manuka honey half an hour before meals. This can help relieve gastric pain and acid reflux.
Smoking, alcohol consumption, and taking NSAID (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) painkillers can stimulate the overproduction of stomach acids, resulting in gastric pain. If you have gastric symptoms, eliminate tobacco and alcohol, and use painkiller alternatives like paracetamol.
There’s no doubt that gastric symptoms can negatively impact our quality of life. Fortunately, there are medicines and remedies that you can count on for immediate relief. Moreover, you can even prevent future recurrences with a few simple lifestyle changes.
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