Common Digestive Problems and Prevention

Everyone has digestive problems from time to time – an upset stomach, gas, heartburn, constipation, or diarrhea. Many digestive problems may be uncomfortable or embarrassing, but they are not serious and don’t last long. Others can be controlled with simple changes in our diet. But sometimes even common digestive symptoms can be signs of a more serious problem. Knowing when one should talk to their doctor may help to take care of their digestive health.

What are the common Digestive Problems?

Common digestive problems may include:

  1. Chest Pain: Gastro esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) – When stomach acid backs up into our esophagus – a condition called acid reflux occurs making one feel a burning pain in the middle of their chest. It often occurs after meals or at night. While it’s common for people to experience acid reflux and heartburn once in a while, having symptoms that affect our daily life or occur at least twice each week could be a sign of GERD, a disease. Most people find relief by avoiding the foods & beverages that trigger their symptoms and or by taking over-the-counter antacids or other medications that reduce stomach acid production & inflammation of the esophagus; however, some cases of GERD may require stronger medication or surgery.
  2. Gallstones – Gallstones are hard deposits that form in our gallbladder – a small, pear-shaped sack that stores and secretes bile for digestion. Gallstones can form when there’s too much cholesterol or waste in our bile or if gallbladder doesn’t empty properly. When gallstones block the ducts leading from gallbladder to intestines, they can cause sharp pain in the upper-right abdomen. Medications sometimes dissolve gallstones, but if that doesn’t work, the next step is surgery to remove the gallbladder.
  3. Celiac Disease – The people who have celiac disease don’t know they have it or have been misdiagnosed with a different condition. Celiac disease is a serious sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Eating gluten, the immune system goes on the attack: It damages your villi, the fingerlike protrusions in your small intestines that help you to absorb nutrients from the foods you eat. Symptoms of celiac disease in kids include abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, vomiting, and weight loss. Symptoms in adults also can include anaemia, fatigue, bone loss, depression, and seizures. However, some people may not have any symptoms. The only treatment for celiac disease is to completely avoid eating gluten. Common cooking alternatives to gluten include brown rice, quinoa, lentils, soy flour, corn flour.
  4. Crohn’s Disease – Crohn’s disease is part of a group of digestive conditions called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Crohn’s most commonly affects the end of the small intestine called the ileum, but it can affect any part of the digestive tract. This chronic condition is an autoimmune disease, meaning that our immune system mistakenly attacks cells in our own body that it thinks are foreign invaders. The most  common Crohn’s symtoms are abdominal pain, diarrhoea, rectal bleeding, weight loss, and fever. “Treatment depends on the symptoms and can include topical pain relievers, immunosuppressants and surgery.
  5. Ulcerative Colitis –  Ulcerative Colitis is another inflammatory bowel disease. The symptoms are very similar to those of Crohn’s, but the part of the digestive tract affected is solely the large intestine, also known as the colon. If our immune system mistakes food or other materials for invaders, sores or ulcers develop in the colon’s lining & if one experience frequent and urgent bowel movements, pain with diarrhoea, blood in the stool, or abdominal cramps, visit doctor. Medication can suppress the inflammation, and eliminating foods that cause discomfort may help as well. In severe cases, surgery is needed to remove the colon.
  6. Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), is another common digestive condition. It includes digestive tract irritatability, stomach pain or discomfort at least three times a month for several months. One can be constipated or have diarrhoea, or have hard, dry stools on one day and loose watery stools on another. Bloating is also a symptom of IBS. What causes IBS isn’t known, but treatment of symptoms centers largely on diet, such as avoiding common trigger foods i.e. dairy products, alcohol, caffeine, artificial sweeteners and beans, cabbage, and other foods that produce gas, or following a low-fat diet that’s also high in fiber. Friendly bacteria, such as the probotics found in live yogurt, may also help feel better. Stress can trigger IBS symptoms, so some people find cognitive-behavioral therapy or low-dose antidepressants to be useful treatments, as well.
  7. Haemorrhoids – Bright red blood in the toilet bowl when one move bowels could be a sign of haemorrhoids, which is a very common condition. Haemorrhoids are an inflammation of the blood vessels at the end of digestive tract. They can be painful and itchy. Causes include chronic constipation, diarrhoea, straining during bowel movements, and a lack of  fiber in diet. This can be treated by eating more fiber, drinking more water, and exercising. Over-the-counter creams and suppositories may provide temporary relief of symptoms.  See doctor if at-home treatments don’t help. Sometimes haemorrhoids need to be removed surgically.
  8. Diverticulitis – Small pouches called diverticulitis can form anywhere there are weak spots in the lining of our digestive system, but they are most commonly found in the colon. Symptoms include rectal bleeding, fever, and abdominal pain. Obesity is a major risk factor for diverticulitis. Mild diverticulitis is treated with antibiotics and a liquid diet so our colon can heal. A low fiber diet could be the cause of diverticulitis, so our doctor may direct us to eat a diet high in fiber — whole grains, legumes, vegetables — as part of treatment. If one have severe attacks that recur frequently, may need surgery to remove the diseased part of colon.
  9. Anal Fissure – Anal fissures are tiny, oval-shaped tears in the lining of the very end of our digestive tract called anus. The symptoms are similar to those of haemorrhoids, such as bleeding and pain after moving your bowels. Straining and hard bowel movements can cause fissures, but so can soft stools & diarrhoea. A high-fiber diet that makes our stool well formed and bulky is often the best treatment for this common digestive condition. Medications to relax the anal sphincter muscles as well as topical anesthetics can relieve pain; however, chronic fissures may require surgery of the anal sphincter muscle.

What are preventive measures for common Digestive Problems?

Preventive Measures May Include:

  • Eat More Frequent Meals:
    • Many weight loss proponents advocate eating smaller, more frequent meals to help boost metabolism and keep from overeating. This rule of thumb can also help prevent digestion problems.
    • When we eat a big meal, our digestive system is overloaded and it may not be able to handle food as well as it should. This can cause heartburn from acids going back from the stomach into the esophagus. Such stomach overload may even induce gas, nausea, or vomiting.
    • Aiming to consume five to six mini-meals a day can help promote overall good digestive health. Make sure you eat a mix of carbs, protein, and heart-healthy fat at each meal. Examples include peanut butter on whole-wheat crackers or yogurt with fruit.
    • One should also avoid lying down after eating. This increases the risk of heartburn and nausea.
  • Eat More Fiber:
    • When it comes to digestive health, fiber is also a key component. Fiber is the bulk in plant foods that can’t be digested. Soluble fiber creates a gel in the digestive tract to keep you full, while insoluble fiber adds bulk to stools.
    • A total daily fiber intake of 38 grams for men under 50, and 25 grams for women in the same age group. Adults over 50 need slightly less fiber, with 30 grams a day for men and 21 grams for women.
    • Getting enough fiber helps prevent digestion problems by regulating the system. If you’re not sure if you get enough fiber, all you have to do is look in your kitchen. Fiber is naturally available in:
      • fruits
      • vegetables
      • beans
      • legumes
      • whole grains
  • Drink Plenty of Water:
    • Water aids our digestive health by helping to cleanse the entire system. It’s particularly helpful in preventing constipation because water helps soften your stools. Furthermore, water may help your digestive system absorb nutrients more effectively by assisting the body to break down food.
    • Aim to drink eight glasses of water a day, and skip the sugary drinks. Added sugars can make digestion problems worse.

When Digestive Issues Require a Doctor’s Visit?

When digestion problems fail to resolve with our lifestyle changes, it may be time to schedule an appointment with a gastroenterologist. Chronic (ongoing) problems could indicate health issues that may need medical attention. These may include:

  • acid reflux
  • celiac disease
  • colitis
  • Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • gallstones
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • severe viral or parasitic infections

These issues can’t be resolved without medical attention. You should see a doctor right away if you experience severe abdominal pain, bloody stools, or unintentional weight loss.

Digestion problems are often an embarrassment, and many people understandably try to hide their issues. It’s important to know, however, that one is certainly not alone. Changing our diet and exercise habits are often the first recommended steps to better digestive health. If one still continues to experience digestion problems, it’s time to see a doctor.

Remember “The road to good health is paved with good Intestines”.