Common Digestive Problems and Their Treatment
According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, more than 60 million Americans are affected by digestive disorders. While around 36 million patients receive their initial diagnosis at their primary care doctor, another eight million people end up in the emergency room before they receive a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. In addition, digestive diseases are fatal for about a quarter million people a year, so it’s imperative that you take your digestive health seriously.
There is a wide range of issues that can indicate digestive disorders, with these diseases ranging from mildly annoying to life threatening, so consult your doctor to determine the seriousness of your case. While it’s quite common to have occasional abdominal upset associated with stomach flu or indigestion, many serious conditions have similar symptoms, and any of the following can indicate that more attention is warranted.
- Changes in your stool, including diarrhea or constipation
- Experiencing prolonged nausea or vomiting spells
- Abdominal pain
- Blood in the urine or stool
- Either losing or gaining excessive weight
- Prolonged bloating or gassiness
There is a broad range of diseases that are considered digestive disorders, and it’s important to educate yourself about your particular condition to understand the symptom profile and your best treatment options.
It is normal and expected to occasionally experience heartburn after a rich or spicy meal. However, if this happens to you regularly, it’s likely that you have acid reflux, a condition where the valve that keeps stomach acid contained does not function properly and stomach acid flows up into your esophagus. Besides heartburn, you may also experience coughing, a sore throat, chest pains, or trouble swallowing when you have acid reflux.
Acid reflux is extremely common and, while uncomfortable, it isn’t life threatening. The condition is, however, a risk factor for throat cancer. If you suffer from obesity or are a smoker, acid reflux is a common associated condition. Some medications can also contribute to the disease, including painkillers, antidepressants and drugs used to treat asthma.
Acid reflux is relatively easy to manage, and you have options for both over-the-counter and prescription medications. For mild cases, an antacid may be sufficient. However, if you don’t gain relief, talk to your doctor about getting a prescription for one of the drugs that reduce stomach acid production such as Zantac. For the most extreme cases that do not respond to medication, surgeries can correct the defective valve and keep stomach acid contained.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is not dangerous, and having the condition is not associated with higher risks for other abdominal diseases. However, IBS is extremely uncomfortable with symptoms that include stomach pain and changes in stool consistency, and many patients also experience bloating and a swollen stomach.
When being diagnosed, doctors must rule out other digestive diseases that mimic the symptoms of IBS, including food allergies and other inflammatory bowel diseases, so experiencing stomach pain doesn’t automatically mean you have IBS. Testing for the condition could include having a colonoscopy, taking blood tests and stool samples, and doing a full allergy workup to eliminate other possibilities.
It can be complicated to treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome because each case is unique, and your triggers will be different than your neighbor’s. However, many people minimize their symptoms with a holistic treatment approach that combines medications with lifestyle changes. You may be prescribed drugs that reduce bowel spasms or control diarrhea. Also, reducing stress, increasing fiber and limiting potentially irritating foods like coffee and dairy are common in IBS treatment plans.
While the reason is unclear, most patients who have IBS are women. Researchers have been unable to determine what causes IBS though they suspect a hormone connection because women are mostly affected.
Also known as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, symptoms of Crohn’s Disease include weight loss, tiredness, blood in the stool, diarrhea or constipation, severe abdominal cramping and, in some cases, fever. While it can be treated, there is no known cure for Crohn’s, and complications and associated conditions can be deadly, so proper care is essential for the best outcome.
Considered an autoimmune disorder, Crohn’s Disease can affect your entire gastrointestinal tract, so treating it takes some trial and error. One of the main challenges of Crohn’s Disease is the fact that your body attacks your digestive system, and it does not properly absorb and break down nutrients. This leaves foods that are rich or fatty undigested, causing irritation, pain and malnutrition.
Doctors use a combination of medication and diet to treat Crohn’s Disease. In many cases, they prescribe drugs to reduce inflammation as well as medications that suppress your body’s immune response. Some patients also respond well to antibiotics if unbalanced gut bacteria is a factor. Most doctors will ask you to keep a food diary to find out what parts of your diet are exacerbating symptoms so they can be eliminated or adjusted with the help of a nutritionist. In severe cases, surgery is used to bypass sections of your digestive tract that are no longer functional.
Commonly referred to as gluten allergy, Celiac Disease is an autoimmune condition that damages the villi in your intestines, making you unable to obtain nutrients from your diet. People with Celiac experience a broad range of symptoms, including joint pain, skin rashes, anemia, heartburn, and mouth sores, as well as digestive upset like stomach cramps, diarrhea or constipation, vomiting and weight loss. There is a genetic component to Celiac Disease, so having a family history makes a diagnosis more likely.
Because there is such a clear connection between gluten and Celiac Disease, removing it from your diet is the most effective way to treat the condition. The primary source of gluten in the American diet is wheat, so eliminating bread and other grain-based products is the cornerstone of a successful treatment plan. Many people replace these products with other gluten-free flours with good results.
Most patients will respond well to a gluten-free diet. However, if the condition has been untreated for some time, permanent damage is possible, and you may need to use steroidal medications to reduce inflammation, as well as look for related conditions that may be causing additional symptoms.
Any time you experience an accumulation of gas, especially when accompanied by a swollen stomach, you are dealing with bloating. This is most commonly connected with what you have recently eaten, and adjusting your diet to eliminate troublesome foods in the easiest way to treat bloating. Eating less, reducing rich or fatty foods and eating slowly will all help keep bloating to a minimum. Common foods that lead to bloating include beans, Brassica vegetables like broccoli and cabbage, whole grains, dairy and artificial sweeteners.
While bloating is almost always a minor issue, it can be a symptom of a much more severe digestive disorder, so pay attention if you regularly experience bloating as you may have a food allergy or a more severe disease such as Crohn’s or Celiac. In some instances, bloating can be an indicator of an intestinal obstruction, cysts or even some types of abdominal cancers, so ask your doctor for a full examination to eliminate more serious issues.
Millions of people experience digestive issues, so you’re not alone if your gut isn’t always at its best. However, most digestive disorders are treatable or curable with medication and diet, so getting help and following your treatment plan will ensure you have the most comfortable life possible when dealing with these common digestive problems.