Digestive Disorders

One important reason why people go to the pharmacy or the doctor’s office is to find a solution for gastrointestinal disorders. A surprising number of people are affected by digestive disorders. Millions of people all around the world have some sort of digestive problem, either permanent or transient. For the vast majority of them, the digestive diseases are a source of annoyance as well as discomfort. Even if they do not like talking about it, that doesn’t mean that the problem does not exist. The number of sudden natural deaths resulting from a digestive issue is high, which is why it is important to deal with the issue.


Digestive Disorders: Overview & Facts

Digestive disorders are practically afflictions of the gastrointestinal tract. Digestive diseases affect the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestine, and the rectum. It is of paramount importance not to forget about the accessory digestive organs, that is, the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. The gastrointestinal tract (GI) is one of the most considerable and complicated system in the human body. The long muscular tube produces juice in order to help with digestion. The GI, more precisely enzymes, decomposes foods into smaller absorbable sources of nourishment, such as proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, etc.

Attention needs to be paid to the fact that the digestive system is not passive. On the contrary, it is aware of all the materials that pass through it and reacts accordingly. Just as it is sensitive to food, the gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to stress. Stress has a negative effect on the process of digestion, which may slow down or become disrupted for a limited time. The matter of the fact is that the GI is under near-constant assault. Digestive disorders disrupt the physical, mental and social wellbeing of a person. There are many types of digestive diseases, as follows:

  • Acid reflux: Acid reflux or GERD is a medical condition in which the acid from the stomach moves up into the esophagus.
  • Peptic Ulcer: Patients experience open sores in the lining of their esophagus, stomach or small intestine.
  • Gallstones: These stones are solid particles that occur as the result of hardened cholesterol. The vast majority of gallstones, more than 70% of them, are made of cholesterol.
  • Diverticulitis: Atypical bulges in the wall of the intestinal track cause issues when they become inflamed or infected.
  • Celiac disease: People with celiac disease cannot consume foods with gluten, as this protein triggers an unwanted immune response.
  • Hiatal and abdominal hernia: Hiatal hernia is an illness in which a part of the stomach makes its way to the opening of the diaphragm and to the chest cavity. Abdominal hernia is when part of the abdominal contents is rejected in the wall.
  • Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis refers to scarring of the liver beyond recall due to loss cells.
  • Seizure: The burst of electrical activity in the brain causes stroke or epilepsy.
  • Colon cancer: Colon cancer can occur in the colon as well as the rectum. It is also referred to colorectal cancer.

Without a doubt, the symptoms depend a lot on the problem. Individuals who have reason to suspect that they have a digestive disorder need to seek medical attention immediately. Sufferers should refer to a gastroenterologist. This is the physician that concentrates on the study and treatment of digestive system illnesses.


Symptoms & Diagnosis of Digestive Disorders

Symptoms of digestive disorders are:

  • Constipation
  • Bleeding
  • Diarrhea
  • Continuous vomiting
  • Dysphagia or difficulty swallowing
  • Regurgitation
  • Fatigue
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss
  • Heartburn

The manifestations mentioned above indicate that something is not right with the gastrointestinal system. It is important to highlight that these symptoms are associated either with dietary problems or with certain food allergies. Being consulted by a physician is therefore important. Only a medical practitioner is capable of identifying digestive disorders.

Diagnosis of digestive disorders is of paramount importance to finding an effective treatment and avoiding complications. These are the most common tests performed in order to diagnose digestive issues:

  1. Physical examination

The gastroenterologist has to do a physical examination to address digestive system concerns. What the medical practitioner does is look for classic symptoms of GI problems. The abdomen is observed from different angles. What the trained professional is looking for is inflammation. The doctor then places the stethoscope on the abdomen and applies pressure to see if the patient feels any kind of pain. In the case of hemorrhoids, it may be necessary for the doctor to insert a glove finger into the rectum and check for abnormalities.

  1. Blood test

The purpose of the blood test is to find antibodies that form against certain proteins, which are normally associated with digestive disorders, and H. pylori. The gastroenterologist may choose to perform a number of tests, such as lactose intolerance test and blood count test.

  1. Abdominal CT Scan

It is not uncommon for medical practitioners to use imaging tests in the process of diagnosis. A computed tomography is an imaging method that allows the physician to view the chest and the abdominal area from different angles. The patient just sits on a table that slides back into the CT scanner. The organs that are scanned are the liver, kidneys, pancreas, spleen, gallbladder, ovaries, aorta, and small and large intestines.

  1. Virtual colonoscopy

Virtual colonoscopy is used to look for colon cancer and address issues, like bleeding from the diverticula. This diagnosis procedure does not cause the patient any kind of pain. A CT and MRI machine are used to make a 3D image of the interior lining of the colon.

  1. Upper GI Series

Upper gastrointestinal series are medical procedures in which the doctor uses X-rays, fluoroscopy and barium in order to view the digestive system. Everything from the esophagus to the duodenum is inspected.


Symptoms & Diagnosis of Digestive Disorders


Digestive Disorders Treatment & Care

Treatment for digestive disorders includes drugs and lifestyle changes.


Digestive issues that do not pose serious health risks, like nausea or constipation, do not require any kind of therapy. More often than not, they go away on their own. Medications are used only when it is actually necessary to relieve symptoms and treat illnesses. Examples of drugs include aluminum hydroxide capsules, ranitidine, hydrocortisone rectal foam, etc. The entire list is long and it cannot be reproduced here. Medications can be used for each part of the digestive tract.

Lifestyle Changes

Mention has been made of lifestyle changes. The most important change that a person suffering from a digestive disease can do is change their dietary habits. A great number of health conditions linked to the GI are caused by foods. Foods that usually cause issues are spicy, fatty foods, chocolate, vegetables like radishes and cabbages, drinks full of caffeine, etc. All of these foods need to be eliminated from the patient’s diet. Basically, individuals are required to go on an elimination diet.

Not only is it important for digestive disease suffers to eat the right kind of diet, but also it is important for them to eat three to five times a day and stay hydrated. Hydration is an essential factor when it comes to the digestive process, keeping the food moving through the intestines and making it possible for it to exit the human body.

Studies have shown that people who take care of their weight and, implicitly, exercise on a regular basis are less likely to confront with afflictions of the gastrointestinal tract. Exercise actually has the power to speed up the digestive process, which normally takes between 24 and 72 hours. Losing weight is equal to optimizing digestion and this is a thing to remember.

Stress takes a toll on the human body, especially on the gastrointestinal system. Until a few years ago, it was believed that the only wrong that stress could produce is indigestion. However, it has been discovered that stress contributed to the development of medical conditions like peptic ulcer and food allergies. It is not possible to avoid stress altogether in the modern world. Yet, for the sake of their health, patients need to make efforts to reduce it. This can be achieved through meditation, keeping journals, and professional counselling.


Living With a Digestive Disorder

Living with a digestive disorder basically means living for the rest of the life with symptoms like diarrhea, bleeding, and abdominal pain. In other words, they experience significant distress. They are ashamed to discuss their problems with other people, let alone with a medical practitioner. They hope that their symptoms will go away by themselves and they will be able to lead a normal life. No matter how embarrassing the problem is, people have to discuss it over with someone, preferably a trained professional.

It would be ideal if there were no digestive disorders but, unfortunately, they affect a significant number of the population. Those few unlucky ones who are required to live with such an illness have no option but to accept their situation and, ultimately, seek ways to improve it. Asking why they have a digestive disorder is not productive. What is productive is making positive changes in one’s life and keeping up-to-date with the latest treatments and drugs.


Myths about Digestive Disorders

Myth #1: Smoking tobacco helps relieve heartburn

It is commonly believed that smoking tobacco makes heartburn better. Smoking prevents the action of the low esophageal sphincter that keeps the acid in the stomach. There is nothing more untrue. There is no connection between cigarettes and heartburn, at least not a positive one. What happens when one smokes tobacco is that the low esophageal sphincter becomes inflamed, the result being pain and other similar manifestations. No, cigarette smoking is not a cure for heartburn.

Myth #2: Bowel regularity refers to bowel movement each day

Bowel regularity means the transition of the food through the GI. Most people think that bowel regularity is equal to having a daily bowel movement. The matter of the fact is that having bowel movement every single day is abnormal. Some people do, but the vast majority of individuals have bowel movement every three days or once a week.

Myth #3 Celiac disease is extremely rare

No, it is not. According to statistics, about 1 in 100 people suffer from celiac disease. The signs of this illness are very similar to the manifestations that children have, namely diarrhea, bloating and abdominal growth. It is common for children and adults alike to have celiac disease.

Myth #4: The colon needs cleansing  

It is not to say that the colon needs cleansing. Sometimes, it is necessary to help the body eliminate toxins. However, there is no scientific evidence stating that this procedure is helpful in the case of digestive disorders. When a person is suffering from irritable bowel disease or has an infection, it is prohibited to cleanse the colon.

Myth #5: There is a connection between irritable bowel disease and psychological issues

It has been suggested that psychological issues like depression and anxiety lead to the development of irritable bowel disease. Researchers, for their part, do not know exactly what causes this health issue. They strongly believe that irritable bowel disease is caused by a microbe or a viral infection. But not by psychological issues. There is no denying that the illness can be aggravated if the person is depressed or suffers from anxiety, but it not the underlying agent.


Genes and Digestive Disorders

A large number of digestive disorders are associated with genes and, implicitly, their mutations. This translates into the fact that individuals have a genetic predisposition for developing gastrointestinal disorders. Thousands of genetic variants have been linked to afflictions of the GI, so there must be some sense to them. But what can DNA testing tell a person? Through DNA testing, people have the opportunity to learn about the risk factors that are involved and to know how they can manage their health condition.

Attention needs to be paid to the fact that only private companies perform DNA testing, on demand. Free information about digestive disorders and genes is not yet available to the public. But it will be in the future.

Last updated on March 2nd, 2018

Chris Riley

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