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Exercise-related gastrointestinal problems well known to recreational runners

02 February 2012

Gastrointestinal problems such as stitches, diarrhoea and stomach-ache are well known to recreational runners. Rinze ter Steege, who is training to become a gastroenterologist/hepatologist at the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) and Medisch Spectrum Twente, has investigated the prevalence of these problems. He will be awarded a PhD for his research by the University of Groningen on 8 February 2012.

Forty-five percent of the participants in his study, both long-distance and short-distance runners, have experienced at least one gastrointestinal problem while running, while 11% had serious complaints. Nearly 3% of the runners were still troubled 24 hours after their run. Serious exercise-related gastrointestinal problems occurred more often in certain groups: young athletes, women and runners who had eaten or drunk something while running but who were unused to doing so.


According to Ter Steege, little research has been done into the prevalence of gastrointestinal problems while running, their causes or ways of preventing them. The general causes for problems developing are the movement of organs during sports activities, abnormal mobility of the gastrointestinal tract and lack of oxygen (ischemia). Many athletes suffer from an ischaemic gastrointestinal tract during heavy exercise due to blood going to muscles instead of to the gastrointestinal tract.
In conjunction with the UMCG, a number of athletes – including top-class ones – suffering from gastrointestinal complaints were examined in depth at the Medisch Spectrum Twente. 


Not everyone is equally susceptible to exercise-related gastrointestinal problems – inexperienced runners in particular have more trouble than experienced ones. If stamina is gradually built up, the body needs to exert itself less to deliver the same performance, which means that blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract is influenced less. In addition, the stomach of a well-trained athlete empties more quickly than that of someone who is less fit. Ter Steege advises athletes to practise consuming food – liquid and other – and drink while exercising to get their bodies used to it.
If gastrointestinal problems continue when not exercising, seeking medical advice is of course to be recommended.

Curriculum Vitae

Rinze ter Steege (Hoogeveen, 1978) studied medicine at the University of Groningen. He conducted his research at the gastroenerology/hepatology department of the Medisch Spectrum Twente in Enschede and is now training to become a gastroenterologist/hepatologist at the UMCG. His thesis is entitled ‘Gastrointestinal ischemia: diagnosis and clinical presentation.’

Last modified:13 March 2020 01.49 a.m.
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