Is your colon healthy? With serious health issues at stake, ask a doctor, not Google _lowres

Photo provided by Fotolia -- One of the top questions gastroenterologist Neelima Reddy gets from patients is about color cancer, a malignancy that occurs in the colon or rectum and is a leading cause of cancer deaths

Nobody really wants to see a gastroenterologist.

Colon cancer, constipation and irritable bowels are all potential medical problems most people would like to ignore.

The answers aren’t on the Internet, says Dr. Neelima Reddy, a gastroenterologist at the Digestive Health Center of Louisiana.

“If you just Google abdominal pain and it gives you 100 causes, how do you know which one is for you?” she says. “Our job is to figure out which one applies to you. Freaking out will only make it worse.”

So after they’ve searched the Internet, what do patients ask Reddy? Here are the top five questions (and her answers):

How do I stop constipation?

Constipation is the top concern patients ask Reddy about. It can cause stomach pain and bloating, which usually drives patients to the gastroenterologist.

“People try to put it off to a certain degree,” Reddy says. “They think in this culture a little bit of constipation is normal. None of us gets enough fiber.”

Constipation often begins because young people don’t want to use the bathroom at school or adults avoid going at work.

“If you try to keep things in, your rectum just gets used to holding the stool in and it doesn’t want to do it when you want to do it,” Reddy says.

While medications are available, Reddy usually admonishes patients to eat better and exercise.

“Whatever is good for your body is good for your colon,” she says.

A good diet for digestive health means small quantities of red meat and more fruits and vegetables.

Do I really need a colonoscopy?

Most patients know they should get their colons checked at 50, but many want to avoid it. In a colonoscopy, a doctor uses a camera mounted on a thin tube to check the inside of a patient’s large intestine — the rectum and the colon. Doctors look for pre-cancerous growths called polyps, which can be removed in order to prevent colon cancer.

“This is like a wellness check-up,” Reddy says. “You do a mammogram or a pap smear or a prostate exam — all of these are preventative screening things.”

Is a colonoscopy painful?

In the past, colonoscopies earned a tough reputation. But as technology advances, cameras have gotten tinier and sedation medicine has improved, making it a painless outpatient procedure, Reddy says.

“You’re not going to feel anything,” she says. “You come in, take a nap, wake up and you’re done.”

Some patients worry about the sedation medicine, but most people don’t have any complications from it.

“It’s the best place to fall asleep and the safest thing to do,” Reddy says. “It puts you to sleep quickly and you can wake up quickly.”

What are the symptoms of colon cancer?

“We say the most common symptoms of colon cancer is no symptoms,” Reddy says.

Abdominal pains, blood in the stool or anemia are all signs of colon cancer, but they can also be symptoms of other medical issues, she says.

Is colon cancer hereditary?

Most of the time, it isn’t. About 3 percent of colon cancer is inherited, Reddy says. But if a close family member — a brother, sister or parent — has had colon cancer or has had a colon polyp removed, Reddy insists on having a colonoscopy 10 years ahead of schedule. “If they have a polyp, we pretty much treat it the same as cancer because if you leave it, it can become cancer,” she says.