60 to 70 million people in the United States suffer from digestive problems each year. Here’s what you need to know:
How’s your “tummy” feeling? Turns out that’s a fairly complicated question. The digestive system in an adult can be up to 30 feet in length, from the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines all the way down to the rectum and anus. And all along the way, something can go wrong. So don’t suffer in silence. Talk to your doctor if you think you have any one of these gastrointestinal issues.
GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)
It starts out as heartburn. Stomach acid backs up into your throat, usually after a meal or at night, causing a burning sensation. Most people experience heartburn once in a while. But if it persists twice a week, it could be a sign of GERD, a chronic disease that affects 20 percent of Americans. If you’re experiencing persistent heartburn, pain in your chest or upper abdomen, nausea or are having trouble swallowing or breathing, see your doctor.
More than 25 million Americans have gallstones, which are hard deposits that form in your gallbladder. One million new cases are diagnosed each year and about 250,000 of these require treatment. The most common symptom is a sharp pain in the upper-right abdomen. Medication is often successful in dissolving the gallstones, but sometimes surgery is needed.
Celiac disease is a serious sensitivity to gluten. It causes a person’s immune system to attack the body and damage the part of the small intestine that helps digest food. Approximately 83 percent of the people who have Celiac disease don’t know that they have it or have been misdiagnosed. Symptoms in adults include anemia, fatigue, bone loss and seizures. In children, the symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, weight loss, constipation, diarrhea and vomiting.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
This is a group of diseases that includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. As many as 780,000 Americans may have Crohn’s disease, whose symptoms include diarrhea, weight loss, fever and rectal bleeding. Ulcerative colitis has similar symptoms and is thought to affect as many as 907,000 Americans.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Not to be confused with IBD, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects 25 to 45 million people in the United States. Stomach pain or discomfort at least three times a month for several months may be a sign of IBS. Constipation, diarrhea and bloating are also symptoms of IBS. Treatment centers largely on eating a healthier diet with more fiber and less alcohol, caffeine, artificial sweeteners and dairy products. Taking probiotics, friendly bacteria found in yogurt with live and active cultures, can help.
Small pouches can form in the weak spots in the lining of the digestive system, especially in the colon. If these pouches become inflamed, it’s called diverticulitis. Symptoms include fever and abdominal pain, and being obese is a major risk factor. Changing your diet to include more fiber is often an effective treatment, but severe cases may require surgery.
Getting Back on Track
There are things you can do on your own to help support a healthy digestive system, especially if your discomfort is mild or includes more common symptoms such as heartburn, constipation, gas, bloating, diarrhea, or other things that may typically be considered less serious causes of digestive distress.
Eating a plant-based diet that includes fermented foods and fiber from colorful fruits and vegetables, having healthy sleep habits, and managing stress levels are some easy ways to support a healthy gut.
If you want to adopt a healthier lifestyle, start with small diet changes and build from there.
Additionally, remember that it’s important to chew your food thoroughly to start and optimize the digestive process. If you can’t break down the nutrients you eat then your body can’t absorb them efficiently.
Don’t wait! If you are experiencing more serious symptoms of digestive distress, especially if things have abnormal for a few weeks to a month, then talk to your primary care provider right away to see what measures can be taken to help detect, diagnose, and treat the problem!
Sources: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, MD Anderson, everydayhealth.com