Digestive conditions are unfortunately very common—according to recent research more than half of the American adult population suffers from some type of gastrointestinal disorder.
In this post we’ll cover the most prominent gastrointestinal ailments; what their causes are; what the long-term effects are and how to get treatment.
Gallstones form when cholesterol found in bile hardens. They collect in the gallbladder, which is a small organ that aids with digestion by storing bile. The cause is believed to be a chemical imbalance in the bile, where too much cholesterol and/or bilirubin is present.
Risk factors that increase likelihood of developing gallstones include being a woman; having a family history of gallstones; being of Mexican or Native American decent; being over 60 years of age; having Type 2 diabetes; eating a diet high in fat and low in fiber; and being obese. Those who have cirrhosis, are pregnant or are on medications with high estrogen levels may also be at a greater risk.
While gallstones are fairly common and sometimes don’t trigger symptoms, if left untreated they can cause severe abdominal pain. Additional complications can include fever, chills, diarrhea, itchy skin, appetite loss, rapid heartbeat, shoulder or back pain and jaundice. Most often, symptoms are triggered after consuming fried foods, but the pain caused by them can arrive at any time.
To detect if you have gallstones, your doctor may use an ultrasound, take blood tests, perform an abdominal CT scan or a radionuclide scan.
In some cases, gallstones will pass naturally and no treatment will be needed, but if they don’t, a cholecystectomy—surgery to remove the gallbladder—is often performed.
If surgery is not an option, some patients may receive oral dissolution therapy, which uses medications to chemically break up the gallstones.
Other treatments include inserting a needle into the gallbladder to aspirate bile and drain it or using a lithotripter to generate shock waves that can break up the gallstones.
Acid Reflux (GERD)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), often referred to as “acid reflux,” occurs when stomach acid returns to the tube that connects your stomach and mouth. It happens when the sphincter at the bottom of your esophagus weakens or relaxes in an abnormal way, which allows acid to flow back instead of remain in the stomach. The acid repeatedly traveling through the lining of your esophagus can irritate it and cause inflammation.
Risk factors for GERD include obesity; pregnancy; connective tissue disorders and hiatal hernias. Additionally, smoking; drinking alcohol or coffee; taking aspirin and eating large meals late at night can increase the likelihood of getting GERD.
The symptoms of GERD include difficulty swallowing, chest pain, heartburn, the regurgitation of food, the feeling of a lump in your throat and a chronic cough. You may also experience laryngitis or sleep disruptions if you suffer from nighttime acid reflux.
If left untreated, GERD can form scar tissue, which may eventually lead to difficulty swallowing. It may also develop into ulcers and increase the risk of esophageal cancer.
To diagnose GERD, your doctor may take an X-ray of your upper digestive system or perform an upper endoscopy, which is a procedure that uses a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera inserted down the throat to inspect the inside of the esophagus and stomach. An esophageal manometry that measures the rhythmic contractions in your esophagus when you swallow may also be used.
The most common treatments for GERD include dietary modifications and over-the-counter antacids. There also may be H-2 receptor blocker or acid blocking medications recommended. Plus, alternative therapies such as techniques to promote relaxation and the consumption of licorice or chamomile could complement other treatments to relieve symptoms.
In more severe cases, fundoplication surgery (which wraps the top of the stomach around the lower esphageal sphincter) may be performed or a LINX device containing tiny magnetic beads wrapped around the stomach and esophagus, may be implanted.
Crohn’s Disease is an Inflammation of the digestive tract and often spreads to the deeper layers of the bowel.
Though the cause of Crohn’s Disease is unknown, research points to a malfunction of the immune system. Risk factors may include heredity; smoking; and frequent anti-inflammatory medication use.
Symptoms include diarrhea; bloody stools; cramping; abdominal pain; fever; fatigue; and mouth sores. In the most severe cases, iron deficiency, inflammation of the liver and kidney stones may also occur.
Leaving Crohn’s disease untreated can lead to ulcers; bowel obstruction; anal fissure; fistulas; blood clots; and malnutrition. Research indicates it also increases your risk of getting colon cancer.
The diagnosis for Crohn’s Disease can include a doctor collecting stool samples; taking blood tests; performing a colonoscopy; taking a CT scan; administering an MRI or using a balloon-assisted enteroscopy procedure.
Once diagnosed, treatment may include lifestyle modifications; vitamins and supplements; anti-inflammatory medications or immune system suppressors. In some cases, biologics or antibiotics could be recommended.
Nutrition therapy (administered orally or intravenously) or surgery may also be an option for some patients.
Talk to a Medical Professional
If you’d like to the help of a medical professional to diagnose and/or treat digestive issues, contact WWMG Gastroenterology to schedule an appointment. For more general inquiries, use the form on this page.