The purpose of this survey was to investigate the prevalence of running-induced gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances in marathon runners. A questionnaire was completed by 471 of the estimated 1,750 competitors in the 1986 Belfast City Marathon. Eighty-three per cent of respondents indicated that they occasionally or frequently suffered one or more GI disturbances during or immediately after running. The urge to have a bowel movement (53%) and diarrhoea (38%) were the most common symptoms, especially among female runners (74% and 68% respectively). Upper GI tract symptoms were experienced more by women than men (p less than 0.05) and more by younger runners than older runners (p less than 0.01). Women also suffered more lower GI tract symptoms than men (p less than 0.05) with younger runners showing a similar trend. Both upper and lower tract symptoms were more common during a "hard" run than an "easy" run (p less than 0.01) and were equally as common both during and after running. Of those runners who suffered GI disturbances, 72% thought that running was the cause and 29% believed their performance to be adversely affected. There was no consensus among sufferers as to the causes of symptoms and a wide variety of "remedies" were suggested. GI disturbances are common amongst long-distance runners and their aetiology is unknown. Medical practitioners should be aware of this when dealing with patients who run.
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