Preventive Measures for the 5 Most Common Digestive Problems
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The human digestive system, also known as gastrointestinal (GI) tract or “gut,” is made up of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine. This is the system responsible for digestion of good and absorption of nutrients. It is also the cause of many uncomfortable and even painful problems experienced daily by millions of Americans.
Abram Eisenstein, MD, Cooper Clinic Director of Gastroenterology, explains five of the most common digestive disorders and how to prevent them.
Often described as belching, regurgitating a bitter taste or a burning sensation in the chest after eating, heartburn is one of the most common gastrointestinal problems faced by Americans. For 85 percent of people suffering from heartburn, it is not a major health hazard. Heartburn becomes serious when “alarm features” such as vomiting, problems swallowing and weight loss are present.
The approach to treating and preventing heartburn depends on the severity and frequency of the symptoms, medical history, weight, smoking and alcohol use. Some risk factors that may indicate a more serious problem include: family history of esophageal cancer, being overweight, smoking and regular alcohol use.
Changes in lifestyle are the most commonly prescribed steps for treatment and prevention of heartburn. If you suffer from heartburn and have not been diagnosed with a more serious problem, your doctor will likely recommend some or all of these lifestyle changes:
Do not eat or drink three hours before going to bed.
Eat three to four small meals during the day rather than a large dinner or lunch.
If you are overweight, make lifestyle changes to lose and maintain a healthy weight.
Quit smoking. It accentuates, aggravates and intensifies heartburn.
Use antacids such as Maalox, Tums and Rolaids as after a meal, before bed and/or as needed.
Described as discomfort, burning, pressure and/or mild pain located in the upper-mid abdomen, dyspepsia is often associated with a need to belch or burp. Dyspepsia is a functional disorder that often occurs after eating. It is typically a chronic problem that comes and goes but is not associated with “alarm features.” It may be caused by an overuse of anti-inflammatory, which can ulcerate the stomach.
Another cause of dyspepsia is H-Pylori, a bacteria that is present in the stomachs of 20 percent of the general population. Most people will not experience symptoms of the bacteria, but some will experience chronic discomfort in upper abdomen. H-Pylori is treatable with antibiotics. In some cases, H-Pylori can cause ulcers and stomach cancer.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome is one of the most common conditions seen by GI doctors. Common symptoms include gas, bloating, flatulence and loose stools. When not associated with “alarm features” such as blood per rectum or weight loss, IBS is simply a chronic, uncomfortable disorder that may be associated with food intolerance to certain foods, such as carbohydrates or gluten.
If your body can’t tolerate the amount of carbs, fructose or simple sugars you may experience gas, bloating or loose stool. These symptoms may also be caused by celiac disease, a genetic autoimmune disorder related to gluten. Some people may also have gluten sensitivity that causes gas, bloating and loose stool when they eat too much cereal grain containing gluten.
Another cause of irritable bowel syndrome is bacterial overgrowth. In an effort to balance bacteria in the stomach, many people take probiotic supplements. However, the results are variable.
Difficulty swallowing, or the sensation that food is stuck in the middle of your chest is called Dysphagia. In the past, it was commonly thought that dysphagia was related to acid reflux induced scarring of the esophagus. Stress or lifestyle problems, not properly chewing food, eating too fast or talking too much while eating can also contribute to the problem. More recently, dysphagia has been associated with food allergy. Certain foods such to tree nuts, shellfish, milk or wheat, can cause inflammation in the esophagus. When the lining of the swallowing tube becomes inflamed, food can get stuck.
A sudden onset of dysphagia symptoms may indicate cancer of esophagus, especially in individuals over 50-years-old who are also smokers. Treatments for dysphagia depends on the exact cause.
For 95 percent of people, constipation is a chronic problem caused by a lack of exercise, poor hydration, poor diet and fiber deficiency. It is medically defined as hard, dry stool, that causes straining and effort to pass. Medications prescribed for anxiety, depression and stress can also cause constipation. A sudden onset of constipation may indicate colon cancer.
If you experience any of the conditions or symptoms listed above, consult with your doctor to ensure your symptoms aren’t related to something more serious.
For more information about Cooper Clinic or to schedule a comprehensive physical exam, click here or call 972.560.2667.
Article provided by Cooper Aerobics Marketing and Communications.