Stress and anxiety are associated with the onset or worsening of symptoms in several digestive conditions. Picture: Publicdomainpics

Studies show that even past major stressful events could still affect your gut even now.

Being stressed-out also causes many people to overeat and drink too much alcohol, both of which affect the digestive system.

Stress and anxiety are associated with the onset or worsening of symptoms in several digestive conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and peptic ulcer disease.

If you find yourself taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications for gastrointestinal discomfort on a regular basis but you are not getting proper relief, this could be a sign of pancreatic exocrine insufficiency (PEI) as the condition may present with non-specific gastrointestinal symptoms.

PEI is a serious and life-threatening condition caused by underlying diseases affecting pancreatic function. 

“The pancreas plays a part in both digestion in the release of enzymes, and in the production of hormones,” said Professor Jose Ramos, Head of HPB Surgery, Wits University Donald Gordon Medical Centre. 

“The enzymes, or digestive juices, are secreted by the pancreas into the small intestine. This is important because that’s how proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are digested so that they can be absorbed in the intestine. The pancreas also produces the hormone insulin and secretes it into the bloodstream, where it regulates the body's glucose or sugar level, its main source of energy.”

“Pancreatic exocrine insufficiency (PEI), untreated, can be extremely debilitating and life limiting resulting in malnutrition and uncomfortable symptoms that could be a sign of a more serious condition,” added Prof Ramos. 

“The main clinical manifestation of PEI is malnutrition and weight loss as a result of maldigestion. Pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT), a mixture of digestive enzymes in the form of a capsule, is available not only to relieve maldigestion-related symptoms, but mainly to achieve a normal nutritional status by helping the body to use fats, proteins, and sugars from food. PERT has been shown to ease abdominal pain, improve body weight, and improve quality of life.”

PEI may go undetected because the signs and symptoms are very similar to those of other gastrointestinal diseases such as IBS, Crohn’s Disease or peptic ulcers, according to Prof Ramos.

If you think you may be at risk, speak to your doctor or pharmacist to determine whether it could be pancreatic exocrine insufficiency (PEI) or another gastrointestinal (GI) condition.