9 Common Digestive Disorders
During our lifetimes we will experience some type of digestive problems such as gas, bloating or heartburn. For most people, these symptoms will resolve fairly quickly. However, there are times people experience more serious and long-lasting symptoms which is cause for concern. Below we provide general guidelines on how to recognize the most common digestive disorders.
The digestive system includes the gastrointestinal tract GI), liver, pancreas, and gallbladder to help us digest food. Digestive disorders involve the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and can range from mild to severe pain. Diagnosing digestive disorders involves a physical exam, diagnostic evaluation, lab testing, and imaging. Symptoms include:
Digestive Disorders: Upper Abdomen
Symptoms in the upper abdomen may include burping, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, and pain. Digestive disorders in the upper abdomen can be caused by too much cholesterol or overuse of medications that upset the stomach. More serious causes include ulcers and nerve damage.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) mainly causes heartburn, usually after eating. GERD is due to the lower esophageal sphincter not working properly and pushing content back up the esophagus. Acid reflux and heartburn are common symptoms. However, experiencing symptoms that affect your daily life or twice a week could be a sign of GERD. Treatment includes changes to your diet, antacids or prescription-strength acid blockers and sometimes surgery.
- Peptic Ulcers Disease (PUD) is an open sore in the lining of the stomach due to acid and digestive enzymes eroding the lining of the stomach or duodenum. The main symptom is a gnawing or burning pain in the pit of the stomach. Getting medical treatment for peptic ulcers is important or it could cause bleeding and anemia. The main cause of peptic ulcers is an infection or chronic use of NSAIDs.
- Gastritis is an inflammation in the stomach lining with symptoms similar to heartburn. This is usually treated with medication to reduce stomach acid.
- Gastroparesis occurs when the stomach takes too long to empty its contents. This is usually caused by damage to the nerves in the stomach. People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are at a greater risk of developing gastroparesis.
- Gallstones form in the gallbladder when bile hardens, resulting in hard stones that range in size from grains of sand to the size of a golf ball. Gallstones can form when there’s too much cholesterol or waste in your bile. Most people don’t have symptoms. However, gallstones that cause blockage will cause a sudden sharp, severe pain that can last a few minutes to several hours. Medications can be used to dissolve gallstones. If that doesn’t work, surgery is the next step to remove gallstones.
Digestive Disorders of the Lower Abdomen
Digestive disorders in the lower abdomen include pain, cramping, and bowel movement problems. Common digestive disorders in the lower abdomen range from autoimmune diseases to inflammation.
- Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease in which gluten triggers the immune system to attack the lining of the small intestine. Eventually, you could lose your ability to absorb nutrients from your food. Symptoms include headaches, diarrhea, bloating, weight loss and abdominal pain. Some alternatives to gluten are brown rice, lentils, soy flour, and cornflour.
- Diverticular Disease is inflammation in the walls of the intestines. Most people don’t experience symptoms. Those that do have to experience sharp pains in the lower abdomen and develop a fever. If left untreated, diverticulitis can cause life-threatening complications. Treatment usually includes changing your diet. If you have bleeding from your rectum, see your doctor right away.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a chronic condition that requires lifelong monitoring and treatment. IBD is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the GI tract. Symptoms can include abdominal pain, weight loss, urgent bowel movements, fever, rectal bleeding, skin/eye irritations, and diarrhea.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common digestive disorder not to be confused with IBD. People with IBS have recurring abdominal pain and either diarrhea, constipation or both. IBS occurs at least three times a month for three months in a row.
A gastroenterologist is best equipped to determine what’s causing your digestion issues. If you are having trouble with your digestive health, Birmingham Gastroenterology can help. We have decades of experience treating diseases and disorders in all parts of the digestive system. To make an appointment to discuss your symptoms and treatment options, call us at (205) 271-8000.