Here are common GI problems, their symptoms, and how you can treat the symptoms.
In a survey conducted by the US National Library of Medicine, 61% of individuals said they experience gastrointestinal symptoms. This means ⅔ of those who participated in the survey suffer from issues including heartburn, acid reflux, abdominal pain, or bloating.
The fact that these symptoms are so common can make it challenging to identify the cause of these issues. Keep reading for a look into 5 of the most common digestive problems and ways you can treat your symptoms.
Keep in mind that stomachaches, gas, heartburn, and other digestive issues aren’t always cause for alarm. However, if you feel you may have one of the following digestive problems, it is best to contact your health care provider to discuss the best treatment options for you.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) affects the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a ring of muscles between your esophagus and your stomach. Because the LES connects the esophagus and the stomach, when it is weak, it can cause stomach acid to build up into your esophagus. This results in acid reflux and, you guessed it, heartburn.
According to aboutgerd.org, “GERD is very common, affecting up to 1 in 5 or more of adult men and women in the U.S. population.” Although it is a common disease, the symptoms that are associated with it are often overlooked or misunderstood. However, just because you are experiencing heartburn, that does not necessarily mean you have GERD. According to WebMD, “More than 60 million American adults have heartburn at least once a month, and more than 15 million adults have heartburn every day, including many pregnant women.”
Common GERD symptoms:
- Acid reflux
- Stomach pain
- Bad breath
- Difficulty swallowing
- Trouble breathing
How can you treat GERD symptoms?
Tip #1: Avoid laying down after meals, as this will prevent heartburn from occurring. Laying down before your meal has had a proper amount of time to digest will cause the acidity from the food to come up and enter your esophagus, resulting in heartburn.
Tip #2: Certain foods can compromise the sphincters’ ability to prevent reflux. Common beverages and foods that stimulate acid production are coffee, sodas, tomato juice, onions, chocolate, and any fatty foods.
Tip #3: To temporarily relieve heartburn, you can take antacids or certain over-the-counter medications that can reduce acid production. However, these are geared for short-term relief and occasional heartburn issues.
Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Disease
Both gluten sensitivity and celiac disease have similar symptoms: bloating, stomach/abdominal pain, and diarrhea. First, let’s talk a bit about gluten: gluten is the name for the proteins found in grain, more specifically wheat, barley, and rye. Examples of gluten include wheat berries, durum, emmer, semolina, and spelt.
Although the symptoms are similar, the two digestive issues are somewhat different. If you have a gluten sensitivity (also referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity), then you will likely experience gastrointestinal issues after consuming products that contain gluten. These symptoms are usually short-term and can be treatable. If you have celiac disease, eating gluten will cause your immune system to attack your body’s tissue. This will worsen overtime as you continue to consume foods that contain gluten.
Common Gluten Sensitivity & Celiac Disease Symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Joint/muscle pain (specific to celiac)
- Confusion (specific to celiac)
- Frequent headaches (specific to celiac)
How can you treat gluten sensitivity and/or celiac disease symptoms?
Tip #1: The most effective way to treat gluten-related issues is to completely cut foods with gluten from your diet. A strict gluten-free diet will help you manage your symptoms and will even help your body heal the intestinal tissue that was affected while consuming gluten.
Tip #2: While a gluten-free diet is helpful for individuals who have gluten tolerance issues, it can cause you to become deficient in vitamins. You should incorporate the following vitamins and supplements into your diet: vitamin B6, vitamin D, calcium, folate, vitamin B12, and iron.
75% of people older than 45 suffer from hemorrhoids, according to the NIDK. What are hemorrhoids exactly? They are an inflammation of blood vessels located at the end of your digestive tract. Hemorrhoids can be caused by lack of fiber in your diet, frequent and chronic constipation issues, diarrhea, and even pregnancy.
Common hemorrhoids symptoms:
- Rectum pain
- Anal discomfort, bleeding, and/or itchiness
- Blood in stool
- Discomfort while sitting
- Discomfort during bowel movements
How can you treat hemorrhoid symptoms?
Tip #1: Incorporate more fiber in your diet and make sure you are drinking adequate fluids. Women should try to eat at least 21 to 25 grams of fiber a day, while men should aim for 30 to 38 grams a day. Read more here.
Tip #2: You can find temporary relief by using over-the-counter hemorrhoid creams and/or suppositories. You can also find temporary symptom relief from frequent warm baths and taking stool softeners as needed.
In some more severe cases, hemorrhoids require a procedure called a hemorrhoidectomy. This will surgically remove the hemorrhoid.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common digestive disease that causes frequent abdominal pain due to its effect on your large intestine. People who suffer from IBS can experience 3 or more “IBS attacks” a month, which consist of abdominal pain, constipation, and/or diarrhea.
Although IBS is painful, it does not harm the digestive tract like many other digestive issues do.
Common IBS symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Unusual stool
How can you treat IBS symptoms?
Tip #1: Stress-reducing activities like therapy and exercise can help alleviate your IBS symptoms.
Tip #2: Many individuals have found relief from taking laxatives, fiber supplements, and/or probiotics.
Tip #3: Avoid “IBS attack” trigger foods such as dairy products, alcohol, caffeine, fatty foods, etc. Adding more high fiber foods to your diet can also help your symptoms.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), not to be confused with IBS, is an ongoing inflammation of your digestive tract. It can affect part of your tract or all of it. The most common IBDs are Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis. Crohn’s disease affects your digestive tract’s lining and ulcerative colitis causes inflammation in your digestive tract. An IBD is an autoimmune disorder, which means that your immune system has an abnormal reaction. IBD affects about 1.5 million Americans.
Common IBD symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Rectal bleeding
How can you treat IBD symptoms?
Tip #1: Depending on the severity, you can take medications to help relieve symptoms. This includes topical pain relievers and immunosuppressants (drugs that block your immune system’s response).
Tip #2: With IBD, more commonly Crohn’s, weight loss can occur. Therefore, your body will need additional nutritional support. In some cases, this additional support can be given via a feeding tube (enteral nutrition) or can be provided in the form of nutrients injected into a vein (parenteral nutrition). This can improve your overall nutrition and allow the bowel to rest. Bowel rest can reduce inflammation in the short term, according to Mayo Clinic.
Severe IBD may require surgery to remove damaged portions of the gastrointestinal tract, according to the CDC.
For more information on other digestive problems, see our blog posts on gallbladder stones and gastroparesis.
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