Written by Eve Bandusena | Parents Avenue’s Editorial Assistant
In conjunction to the World Digestive Health Day which is held on the 29th May this year, Parents Avenue had the opportunity to interview Dr. Chan Khan Wei, a resident consultant and surgeon at Gleneagles Kota Kinabalu Hospital specializing in general surgery, bariatric and metabolic surgery on the topic of “Digestive Health Issues.”
Dr. Chan begins with addressing the most common digestive health issues that’s currently widespread among the population, “It’s definitely gastritis, and haemorrhoids along with minor infections presenting with symptoms such as abdomen pain, vomiting to diarrhoea.
These are the non-surgical ones. For the surgical ones, we usually see appendicitis and things like bleeding when passing motion.” Dr. Chan adds, “These are all the benign problems. Of course, there are more sinister ones like, colorectal cancer, usually seen in the older age group.”
Dr. Chan reassures. Originally hailing from Melaka, Dr. Chan graduated from National University in Malaysia with his masters in surgery, later on, he subspecialized in Laparoscopic Surgery at the University of Strasbourg and continued his focus on Colorectal Surgery and Metabolic Surgery for type two Diabetic Mellitus in Taiwan. He’s now the resident surgeon at Gleneagles Kota Kinabalu Hospital.
Continuing the topic of digestive health issues, he touches on the symptoms relating to unhealthy digestive system and lists feeling pain and bloating as indications of a digestive problem. “We have another set of patients who have reflux, where the acid comes up and they feel a burn in their stomach coming upwards.
This can mimic chest pain, so a lot of people worry whether or not it’s a heart problem, therefore a cardiologist diagnostics is needed first.If it’s not coming from the heart then it’s possibly coming from the stomach.”
He goes on to add, “Other symptoms apart from that include, diarrhoea, and on the opposite spectrum of that, constipation. “We see a lot of constipation problems today” states Dr. Chan, “Among the many reasons this is happening is our dietary intake such as poor fibre and fluid intake. Other that, blood in stool.”
While it sounds alarming, Dr. Chan reassures us that it’s usually of a benign nature excluding the older adults as it can be a sign of more sinister conditions such as cancer, a proper assessment is then needed.
To eradicate the problem of unhealthy digestive system faced by many, it’s crucial in knowing the cause. Dr. Chan provides a few reasons as follows:
Along with poor eating habits and stress, Dr. Chan emphasizes, “It’s the quality of the food. We still need proper cooked meals.” While he doesn’t have any comments on organic food, preparation of food is crucial especially with clean water sources.
Aside from that, restricting ourselves from overindulging is a major rule in his book. “A few principles on how we should indulge ourselves is to eat enough and don’t overeat.” He goes on to expand that, overeating is akin to going to a buffet, paying “x” amount for the food and end up eating as much as you want as we’ve paid for a lot for a meal.
Another reason he observes comes from our own familial habits. “Our parents will say, ‘you’re not full, eat some more’ and no, if you’re feeling full enough, don’t force yourself to eat so much.” Lastly, it’s all about a healthy diet. This comprises of not overeating any certain foods. Not eating too much vegetables, or too much meat. “In our part of the world, there’s usually too much carbohydrates, whether it’s rice or noodles.”
He goes on to say, “In our modern day life, we don’t work out to burn our calories. We don’t walk to school or work; we don’t take the stairs. We should definitely cut carbohydrate as well.” Dr. Chan stated.
As prevention is the best strategy against digestive health issues, Dr. Chan advices us on ways to practice good health for our digestive system. “A healthy lifestyle is key.” On this note, our digestive system only function as well as the food we choose to eat.
Besides that, having enough rest is important, because without it, our GI tract will go chaotic. “That’s why you see some people get constipated when they go traveling. During travel, they’re stressed out, they’re chasing flights and have poor food intake as they grab whatever they can eat along the way.” He states.
“This causes constipation for them when they’re traveling or when they’re coming back.” He notes that, when a lot of us travel as well we’re eating outside food, “so it’s important to be mindful about where you’re going and what you’re going to eat.”
Dr. Chan takes a moment to consider more options, “Learn to relieve your stress. Stress can induce a lot of digestive symptoms. Some people get ulcers or get colics, which are crampy pain in the digestive tract.” He lastly adds to stop smoking, as it causes gastric ulcers and polyps to develop in the colon and increases our risk for cancer.
“One of the bad habits we should do away with is to stop smoking, whether it’s first hand smoke or second hand smoke. So parents, stop smoking.” He smiles cheekily.
For people presently suffering from unhealthy digestive system, leaving their conditions untreated will lead to short and long term problems, according to Dr. Chan. “Things like ulcers can be painful. They can bleed and perforate the GI tract like the stomach. Chronic ulcers can lead to cancers.” Dr. Chan continues,
“There’s also a bacteria called Helicopter Pylori, and it’s found in a person’s stomach. Without treatment, it may lead to chronic ulcers, and cancer.” Helicopter Pylori is usually spread through unhygienic food and sharing of food, so it can cause severe problems.
“Colon side, chronic constipation causes a lot of issues, issues of pain and going to the toilet, dependence on stool softeners and fibre diets can cause the GI tract to slow down and lead to other problems.”
To prevent the likelihood of this damaging repercussions of our health from happening, Dr. Chan states the importance on going for digestive health system check-ups “Based on symptoms, we go for check-ups.
If you have gastric pain, you see a doctor and he prescribes you medication, that’s good. But, if it’s not going away, then do come to see a specialist.” Apart from examinations, specialists will do blood sampling, and endoscopic examination of the stomach. If it’s of colonic symptoms, then further testing will be done.
However, for those without symptoms, there is a scheduled screening process. “If generally you are not at risk, we’re saying 50 years and above, we recommend you to go for a digestive health check.” A scheduled health screening will typically include an examination from blood and stool tests to endoscopy.
“If the scopes look normal, we’ll repeat it in 5 to 10 years for those without symptoms,” Dr. Chan assures, “It’s like car maintenance, you send in your car for service at 10,000km because you want to do preventive maintenance. It’s the same for humans, we have to do preventive maintenance for our digestive health system.”
On a broader spectrum, the prevalence of digestive health problems is a common condition among all Malaysians today, Dr. Chan says, “It’s one of the most frequent issues in our country, definitely. If it’s an infection, then it runs across the whole population, where they go for food intake, things like that play a role.”
He goes on to add a few interesting observations he’s experienced, “Some races have higher propensity for certain kinds of cancer, like, colon cancer is higher in Chinese and stomach cancer and esophageal cancer happens more to Indians, especially in West Malaysia.”
This isn’t exempted from children as well.
“At different ages you have different sets of digestive system problems. The most common among toddler or babies is actually infective diarrhoea which often is viral origin.”
Dr. Chan also provides us some pearls of wisdom for children nutrition, “I’m not a fan of junk food, especially for the little ones.” He says, “Younger children should be careful about junk food and soft drinks, educating them about it is important. This has to be absolutely the worst culprit.”
In his professional opinion, fast food is relatively acceptable, but when it comes down to the soft drinks, it’s just not healthy at all. So parents, take heed in lessening carbonated drinks to your kids.
As we come to a close, we ask if Dr. Chan has any messages to the readers of Parents Avenue, “My message is to not overindulge, our current problem in this era is abundance of food, especially for children to adults onwards. We see more obesity now because food is so easy to overindulge. Food is readily available, you can get it from the convenience store to shopping malls, and I think we need to learn how to eat. Things like, don’t eat when it’s too much, to stop when you’re full and starting this practice from a young age.”
For more information about this topic, please contact Gleneagles Kota Kinabalu Hospital at 088-518 888 or visit the hospital at Riverson at Sembulan. Visit their website at http://gleneagleskk.com.my/ Follow them on Facebook for latest updates.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases. At Parents Avenue, we strongly recommend all our readers to seek medical advise from your local hospital or clinic. Thank you.
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