10 Common Digestive Disorders

  • How Serious Are Your Symptoms?
    Stomach aches, gas, heartburn and other digestion issues can be uncomfortable, but fortunately, they usually aren’t cause for concern. Sometimes, though, these symptoms may signal a more serious health condition. Talk with your doctor if you think you might have one of these 10 common digestive disorders.

  • 1. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
    If you have heartburn or acid reflux more than a couple of times a week, you may have Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD. The esophagus moves swallowed food down to your stomach. A ring of muscles—the lower esophageal sphincter (LES)—connects the stomach and esophagus. When the LES is weak, stomach acid can leak back up into your esophagus and cause heartburn. This can cause serious damage to your esophagus over time. About 20% of Americans suffer from GERD. You can treat GERD with lifestyle changes, such as changing what and when you eat, and eating smaller meals. Antacids or prescription-strength acid blockers can also help.

  • 2. Peptic Ulcer Disease (PUD) and Gastritis
    PUD is an open sore in the lining of the stomach or upper part of the small intestine. It affects over 15 million Americans. Gastritis is inflammation of the stomach lining. These two conditions have similar symptoms, including stomach pain and nausea, and similar causes. A bacterial infection— H. pylori—is the most common cause of PUD and often causes chronic gastritis. NSAIDs—including aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen—are another common cause. Antacids and proton pump inhibitors often help. Antibiotics treat H. pylori infection.

  • 3. Stomach Flu
    Stomach flu—or gastroenteritis—is an infection of the stomach and upper part of the small intestine. Common symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, and cramps. Rotavirus and norovirus, which affect millions of people every year, are often the cause. Gastroenteritis often clears up on its own, but you lose fluids through diarrhea and vomiting. Prevent dehydration by drinking water and electrolyte drinks.

  • 4. Gluten Sensitivity and Celiac Disease
    Symptoms of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease are similar. They include diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain. Gluten sensitivity is relatively common, affecting about 5% of the U.S. population. True celiac disease affects less than 1%. It’s important to see your doctor for a correct diagnosis—don’t try to self-diagnose. Unlike gluten sensitivity, celiac is an autoimmune disease that can damage the small intestine. Eliminating gluten—a protein in wheat, rye, barley and oats—from your diet is the main treatment for both conditions.

  • 5. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
    Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers to long-lasting inflammation in the digestive tract. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the two most common types of inflammatory bowel disease. IBD affects about 1.5 million Americans, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. They are autoimmune diseases, which means there is an abnormal immune system reaction. IBD causes irritation and swelling, resulting in diarrhea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, fever, and weight loss. Crohn’s disease mainly affects the end of the small bowel and the beginning of the colon. Ulcerative colitis affects just the colon and rectum. Drugs that block your immune response can treat IBD. Sometimes surgery is necessary.

  • 6. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
    People sometimes confuse IBS with IBD. IBS is abdominal pain that occurs at least three times a month for three months in a row. You also might have constipation or diarrhea. Unlike IBD, IBS doesn’t harm the digestive tract and it’s far more common. More than 15 million Americans have IBS. The exact cause of IBS is unclear. Treatment may include eating smaller meals and avoiding foods that cause symptoms. Some people take laxatives, fiber supplements, or probiotics to treat IBS.

  • 7. Constipation
    Constipation is difficult or infrequent passage of stool. If you have bowel movements less than three times a week, you likely are constipated. Chronic constipation affects about 63 million people in the United States. A common cause of constipation is not getting enough fiber in your diet. The main symptom of constipation is straining to go. In most cases, increasing fiber, fluids, and exercise will solve this condition. Use laxatives only as a temporary solution.

  • 8. Hemorrhoids
    Hemorrhoids are painful, swollen blood vessels in the anal canal. Symptoms include pain, itching, and bright red blood after a bowel movement. Constipation and pregnancy are major causes. Hemorrhoids are common, with 75% of people older than 45 having them. It helps to avoid constipation by adding fiber and plenty of fluids to your diet. Try hemorrhoid cream, suppositories, or a warm bath to relieve pain and itchiness. It may feel a little embarrassing to talk about hemorrhoids, but don’t let that stop you from seeking help if hemorrhoids persist.

  • 9. Diverticular Disease
    Diverticular disease includes diverticulosis—small pouches that form in the wall of your colon and diverticulitis and become inflamed. Roughly half of people ages 60 to 80 have this condition. You may feel bloated, constipated, or pain in your lower abdomen. Treatment usually includes changing what you eat. If you have bleeding from your rectum, see your doctor right away. You many need antibiotics, a liquid diet, or even surgery to treat diverticulitis.

  • 10. Gallstones
    The gallbladder is an organ attached to your intestine that stores bile—a digestive juice. Bile can form small, hard deposits called gallstones. About 20 million Americans have gallstones, but not all of them are a problem. Some gallstones don’t cause symptoms and go away on their own. Others can cause severe pain or infection. You may also have nausea, vomiting, and fever. Surgery is the usual treatment for gallstones that cause these gallbladder attacks.

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10 Common Digestive Disorders
  1. Digestive Diseases Statistics for the United States. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/statistics/statistics.aspx.
  2. Gallstones. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/gallstones/.
  3. Gastroenteritis. Medical University of South Carolina, Digestive Disease Center. http://www.ddc.musc.edu/public/symptomsDiseases/diseases/stomach/gastroenteritis.cfm.
  4. Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD). Medical University of South Carolina, Digestive Disease Center. http://www.ddc.musc.edu/public/symptomsDiseases/diseases/esophagus/GERD.cfm.
  5. Gastrointestinal Disorders. Cleveland Clinic. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/gastrointestinal_tract_disorders/hic_gastrointestinal_disord....
  6. Gluten Sensitivity. Celiac Disease Foundation. http://celiac.org/celiac-disease/non-celiac-gluten-sensitivity/.
  7. Hemorrhoids. Medical University of South Carolina, Digestive Disease Center. http://www.ddc.musc.edu/public/symptomsDiseases/symptoms/hemorrhoids.cfm.
  8. Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . http://www.cdc.gov/ibd/.
  9. Irritable Bowel Syndrome. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/ibs/.
  10. Overview of Gastritis. The Merck Manual Professional Edition. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal_disorders/gastritis_and_peptic_ulcer_disea....
  11. Peptic Ulcer Disease. The Merck Manual Professional Edition. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal_disorders/gastritis_and_peptic_ulcer_disea....
  12. Rubio-Tapia A, Ludvigsson JF, Brantner TL, Murray JA, Everhart JE. The prevalence of celiac disease in the United States. Am J Gastroenterol. 2012 Oct;107(10):1538-44; quiz 1537, 1545.
  13. Volta U, Caio G, Tovoli F, De Giorgio R. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: questions still to be answered despite increasing awareness. Cell Mol Immunol. 2013 Sep;10(5):383-92.
  14. What I Need to Know About Diverticular Disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/diverticular
  15. What Is Celiac Disease? Celiac Disease Foundation. http://celiac.org/celiac-disease/what-is-celiac-disease/.
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Last Review Date: 2018 Nov 2
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