Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pumpkin in the Paunch (Marin IJ)

The devilish debauchery is done. Candy wrappers litter the living room and cobwebs cover the corridors. Pumpkins seeds party in the green bin and ghoulish mascara smears the face. It is late Halloween night and if you are like me, there is hell to be paid. If history is any indication, post-Halloween will mean a trick-or-tummy – a pop-pop, fiz-fiz, oh what an abdominal pain it is. I do indeed have an avid sweet tooth and hence many Halloweens past have left me feeling like I have a Jack O’Lantern in the innards. There are surely many others out there who have experienced something similar. Ostensibly, Halloween candy is for children, but in reality many adults take liberties. In fact, according to the National Confectioners Association, an estimated 90% of parents “sneak” some goodies from their children’s treat bags. And, even if you can avoid the sneak attack on the candy bag, there are way too many adult-oriented treats to resist! Consider this entry on…

“On Halloween I invited friends to ‘stop by.’ Not knowing how many would come and how much they would want to eat, I had way too much food to finish. All by myself. I had pigs in a blanket, shrimp, jalapeno poppers, taco dip, wings, chips and dip, cheese and crackers. Then there was pumpkin pie and pumpkin cookies. Not to mention obscene amounts of Halloween candy. I ate and ate until my tummy was aching and then I ate some more. The result was one huge monster tummy with an ache to match.”

Sounds familiar? If it hasn’t happened at Halloween, maybe it has been post-Thanksgiving or a Super Bowl celebration gone a-gorging. There are many variations on this post-feast malaise, with a number of medical terms to match; dyspepsia, abdominal colic and borborygmos (this is my personal favorite and refers to audible gurgling in the bowel). Regardless of the terminology, those whose eyes are bigger than their stomachs are often desperate for treatment. Acknowledging the obvious (that prudent prevention is the best medicine), the following are some recommendations, based on the degree of discomfort.

One Groan. Ouch, the candy corn blew up in your gut. Here are some simple steps towards relief; sipping warm water with lemon or ginger mixed in. Or try honey and cinnamon, perhaps blended with yogurt. A brisk walk around the block might help (but skip the trick or treating this time). If the walk doesn’t work, try a heating pad or a gentle clockwise belly massage.

Two Groans. That caramel apple is on fire! Now might be a good time to consider medicating. There are numerous over-the-counter options and your choice will depend on your symptoms. For a sour stomach, try Tums, Maalox and/or famotidine (Pepcid). For excessive gassiness, try simethicone (Gas-X). For looseness from below, loperamide (Imodium) is worth a shot. And finally, for a repeated pattern of reflux, talk to your doctor about starting a course of omeprazole (Prilosec).

Three groans. This is getting severe. At this point, it is time to consider whether something more serious is going. Heart attacks sometimes present as upset stomachs without chest pain, and there are plenty of potentially life-threatening abdominal conditions that are associated with bloating and cramping. Some clues that the post-feast beast in the gut needs medical evaluation include; fever, dizziness, chest or neck pain, repeated vomiting, bloody or black stool, a hard or rigid belly, or one that is tender in a particular spot. Don’t follow the stoic example of Harry Houdini, who ignored an ache in his right lower abdomen for several days before seeing the doctor. He died from a ruptured appendix on October 31st, 1926.

Most belly pain gets better on its own, and the chances are pretty good that the pumpkin in your paunch will soon pass. But, take this opportunity to make a resolution for the next holiday. Think smaller portions, less booze and some exercise. For the kiddos (and for parents who can’t fight temptation), consider Halloween toys rather than candy. Believe it or not, this choice has been scientifically studied, and kids choose small toys just as often as they choose chocolate. The same, however, is not necessarily true for adults, so it is best to have some ginger ready to go.