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What are the Most Common Digestive Issues and How are They Treated?

By: Janet Franklin

Not scientifically reviewed by Dr. Eeks

Millions of people suffer from digestive health issues across the world, and the prevalence of such issues is only increasing by the year.

 

Digestive issues refer to any kind of problem with the digestive system. They can include problems with the breakdown of food or nutritional absorption and can lead to a range of symptoms, such as bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.

 

There are hundreds of different kinds of digestive issues, but some are more common than others. In this article, you’ll learn about the most common digestive problems, including their causes, symptoms, and treatments.

 

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome, usually shortened to IBS, is one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders, affecting around 11% of the population globally. Although the exact cause of IBS is unknown, it’s thought to be triggered by food sensitivities, disruptions to the gut microbiome, and stress.

 

The symptoms of IBS can range from mild to severe, and they can vary depending on the unique triggers in a person’s life. The main symptoms of IBS include:

  • Abdominal pain and discomfort
  • Changes in bowel movements, such as diarrhea, constipation, or a combination of the two
  • Bloating or excess gas
  • Mucus in the stool

 

Treatment options for IBS vary depending on the root cause of the issue. However, common treatment options include the following:

  • Dietary changes – this may include avoiding certain trigger foods, like dairy, gluten, and high-fat foods.
  • Stress management – techniques may include meditation, breath work, yoga, and reduced workload.
  • Medications – over-the-counter laxities, antidepressants, and antispasmodics can be effective for IBS.
  • Probiotics – if gut microbiome disruptions are thought to be the cause of a person’s IBS, probiotics might help to minimize the symptoms.

 

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is the more common term used for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It describes a condition where stomach acid flows back into the esophagus.

 

The main cause of acid reflux is weakness in the lower esophageal sphincter (the muscle that sits between the esophagus and the stomach). When this sphincter doesn’t close properly, stomach acid flows up the esophagus and causes a burning sensation in the chest.

 

Pregnancy, smoking, obesity, and certain medications (such as NSAIDs and calcium channel blockers) can also contribute to acid reflux.

 

Treatment for acid reflux usually involves positive lifestyle changes and medication. Some lifestyle changes that can help reduce symptoms include:

  • Following a nutrient-dense diet
  • Avoiding common trigger foods
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Elevating the head of the bed
  • Avoiding eating for 2-3 hours before bedtime
  • Quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption

 

Medications may also help to reduce GERD symptoms, including antacids, H2 blockers, proton pump inhibitors, and prokinetics.

 

Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease is part of a group of conditions known as irritable bowel disease (IBD), along with ulcerative colitis. It affects the small intestines and causes a host of negative symptoms, including abdominal cramps, weight loss, bloating, and blood in the stool.

 

Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune condition, and the exact cause is unknown. However, there may be a hereditary component, as you’re more likely to suffer from it if one of your parents or grandparents does.

 

The treatment for Crohn’s disease mainly revolves around symptom management. There is no cure but painkillers, immunosuppressants, and dietary changes can be helpful for improving a person’s quality of life.

 

Stomach Ulcers

Stomach ulcers (known medically as gastric ulcers) are painful sores that develop along the inner lining of the stomach. They are usually caused by infection with the bacterial species Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). However, your risk of developing a stomach ulcer increases with chronic use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and stress.

 

The main symptoms of stomach ulcers are abdominal cramps and pains, bloating, nausea, vomiting, and changes in appetite. They can be life-threatening if left untreated.

 

The most appropriate treatment for stomach ulcers depends on the cause of the problem. Antibiotics can be used to get rid of an H. pylori infection, and proton pump inhibitors or H2 blockers can be prescribed to reduce the amount of acid inside the stomach, which can help the ulcer to heal.

 

Lifestyle changes, like avoiding spicy or acidic foods, reducing caffeine intake, minimizing stress, and quitting smoking, can be helpful to prevent stomach ulcers from worsening. Some individuals might require surgery to remove the ulcer and repair any associated damage, although this is usually only the case for severe and chronic ulcers.

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