7 Common Causes of Digestive Issues
Whether it is an upset stomach, diarrhea or heartburn that just doesn't seem to go away, common, recurring digestive issues can sometimes point to something bigger than spicy food or a case of gas. Digestive distress can be caused by many various types of gastrointestinal disorders, some of which are ongoing, serious conditions.
The human digestive system is a system of organs that process nutrients and eliminate waste. If you are experiencing digestive problems, it can interfere with your daily life and routine. Digestive issues can cause mild discomfort, embarrassing and inconvenient symptoms or severe, debilitating pain.
These are some of the most common digestive system disorders and treatment options for people who have recurring (or chronic) symptoms.
Reflux occurs when stomach acid travels up your esophagus, sometimes entering your throat or mouth. This backwash of acid can cause irritation in your esophagus and throat, as well as pain in your chest (known as heartburn). Reflux can be caused by GER or GERD. Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) is most commonly known as "acid reflux" and can be experienced after a large meal or drinking coffee or alcohol. GERD, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, is marked by frequent episodes of acid reflux, usually two or more per week. GERD can be caused when the sphincter that separates the esophagus from the stomach weakens or relaxes abnormally, allowing for the frequent backwash of acid. Acid reflux can usually be treated by lifestyle changes like eating smaller meals and avoiding alcohol and tobacco. GERD may need to be treated by prescription medication, surgery or other procedures.
More than 25 million people in the United States have gallstones and nearly 75% of them are women. Gallstones are solid lumps in the gallbladder that form when bile crystalizes. They can range from the size of a grain of sand to as large as a golf ball. When gallstones get stuck in a duct in the gallbladder, the gallbladder contracts, resulting in sharp or knife-like pain in the upper right abdomen. Gallstones can also cause nausea and vomiting and more serious digestive issues like pancreatitis. Gallstones can be treated through medication or surgery.
3. Peptic Ulcers
Peptic ulcers are open sores on the lining of your stomach or top of your small intestine that cause abdominal pain. Some types of bacteria can weaken the protective stomach lining, allowing acid to come in direct contact with the wall of your stomach and cause ulcers. Other causes of peptic ulcers include smoking and excessive use of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like Motrin, Advil and Aleve. Treatment options for peptic ulcers include antibiotics to kill the harmful bacteria in your stomach and medications to neutralize stomach acid.
4. Ulcerative Colitis
Ulcerative colitis is a condition marked by inflammation of the large intestine that causes sores to form on the lining. Symptoms include abdominal pain and the frequent urge to have a bowel movement. Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease, meaning it is persistent or long-lasting and does not have a cure; however, treatment options including diet modifications and medication may help relieve symptoms.
5. Crohn's Disease
Crohn's Disease is similar to ulcerative colitis, except inflammation is not limited to the large intestine and can affect any part of the GI tract—from the mouth to the anus. Symptoms of Crohn's disease include stomach pain, diarrhea, cramping and significant weight loss. Crohn's disease affects an estimated 700,000 Americans. A combination of treatment options, including medication and therapies, can help people with Crohn's disease live a full and rewarding life.
6. Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the more common diseases that affect the digestive system, impacting 1 out of 10 people in the United States each year. Symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain, diarrhea, cramping, gas and bloating, constipation and changes in bowel movements. IBS can interfere with daily life, but medication, probiotics, medical nutrition therapy and mental health therapies can all help manage and reduce symptoms.
Nearly half of all Americans experience hemorrhoids by age 50. Hemorrhoids are blood vessels in the anus or rectum that become swollen and cause intense itching and pain. Pregnancy, aging, chronic constipation and diarrhea can increase your likelihood of developing hemorrhoids. Most hemorrhoids go away on their own or with the help of simple measures like stool softeners and avoiding heavy lifting or straining.
A gastroenterologist is a doctor with specific training in diseases that affect the digestive system. If you have been experiencing persistent digestive distress, it's cause to make an appointment with a gastroenterologist for an evaluation. Help is available. A gastroenterologist can determine the cause of your digestive issues, provide an explanation of gastrointestinal disease causes and treatment options.