When it comes to the body, one of the most sensitive components is the digestive system. It’s often affected by many issues that may seem initially unrelated like malfunctions in other parts of the body, stress, and emotional factors. Digestive diseases affect millions every day. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, between 60 and 70 million people are affected by digestive diseases.
In honor of Digestive Disease Week, we’ve put together a list of the five most common disorders that can threaten your digestive health, as well as their symptoms and treatment options.
This digestive disorder affects roughly 2 million people in the United States. Celiac disease damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. Those with Celiac disease are intolerant or sensitive to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Symptoms and signs of Celiac disease include:
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Food intolerance
- Weight loss
- Depression or anxiety
- Tingling numbness in hands and feet
- Itchy skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis
The inflammation associated with Celiac disease carries a risk of some gastrointestinal cancers. Treatment for Celiac disease consists of following a strict, gluten-free diet.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Studies estimate that approximately 10 to 15 percent of the adult population is affected by irritable bowel syndrome, with twice as many women as men affected by the disorder.
Symptoms of this gastrointestinal (GI) disorder are caused by changes in how the GI tract works and can include both diarrhea and constipation. The most common symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain or discomfort, cramping, and changes in bowel habits.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
GERD results when the lower esophageal sphincter–the muscle that acts as the valve between the esophagus and stomach–becomes weak or relaxes when it should not. This causes stomach contents to travel up the esophagus, triggering heartburn.
Common symptoms of this GI disorder include:
- Dry, chronic cough
- Sore throat, hoarseness, or laryngitis
- Difficult or painful swallowing
- Pain in the chest or upper abdomen
- Dental erosion and bad breath
To diagnose GERD, a gastroenterologist may use an upper endoscopy (LINK to page) to see the upper GI tract and evaluate the severity. Treatment for GERD may involve lifestyle changes, medications, or surgery, depending on the severity of the issue.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
IBD is an umbrella for some serious digestive disorders including Crohn’s diease and ulcerative colitis. According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, these digestive illnesses affect around 1.4 million Americans.
Though researchers have not found a specific cause of IBD, it is suspected to be a combination of a faulty immune system, genetics, and environmental factors.
Major symptoms of both conditions include:
- Persistent diarrhea
- Rectal bleeding
- Urgent need to move bowels
- Abdominal pain
Your gastroenterologist may recommend an upper endoscopy or colposcopy to diagnose IBD. Treatment for Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis includes a combination of options including medication, changes in diet and nutrition, and surgery.
This digestive disorder reduces the ability of the stomach to empty its contents, slowing or stopping the movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine. Gastroparesis typically affects more women than men, though the reason for this is unknown.
Diabetes is the most common known cause of gastroparesis but other identifiable causes include intestinal surgery and nervous system disease such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
Common sympotoms of gastroparesis include are nausea, vomiting undigested food, and a feeling of fullness after eating only a small portion of food. Other symptoms of this digestive illness include:
- Acid reflux
- Pain in the stomach area
- Abdominal bloating
- Lack of appetite
Eating greasy, rich foods or consuming beverages high in fat or carbonation may aggravate these symptoms in some patients.
Gastroparesis may be diagnosed through a physical exam, medical history evaluation, and blood tests to rule out structural problems in the GI tract through an upper GI endoscopy, upper GI series, and/or ultrasound.
In many cases, gastroparesis is a chronic condition. However, a combination of nutritional changes and medication can help manage symptom severity
The best way to minimize the threat these five conditions pose on your digestive health is to learn their symptoms and promptly report any concerns to your doctor or gastroenterologist.