What You Must Know About Digestive Problems
We’ve all had those irritating (and sometimes embarrassing) moments when we had to break away from a conversation, intimate moment, meeting or other social activity to run to the bathroom.
If it happens once in awhile, it may not be significant. But, if digestive issues continuously embarrass you and make you frantically look for a way to leave a situation, it might have a negative impact on your life.
Digestive issues such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), flatulence, acid reflux and gastritis can certainly wreck your social life and eventually drive you to stay alone as much as you can to avoid the embarrassment.
You should know that a continuous and irritating digestive problem might mean you have a serious health issue. Whatever the issue, if it’s severe enough, then it should be addressed immediately by a healthcare provider before it becomes dangerous.
Digestive problems are part of the wide array of embarrassing health issues that we don’t want to talk about – but, it’s imperative that we do. Some think these issues are simply a part of life, especially as we age.
Even though the symptoms don’t appear to be life-threatening, there may be issues occurring in your body stemming from a problem that could be simply cured or dealt with so it doesn’t get worse.
Common Digestive Problems and How to Deal With Them
Embarrassing digestive issues affect everyone sooner or later. Diarrhea, gas, stomach pain or cramps, heartburn (GERD), Irritable Bowel Disorder (IBD) and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are all digestive issues which could cause embarrassment.
Treatment for these nasty problems might include lifestyle changes or medication. Even if pondering gas or diarrhea isn’t the most exciting thing to think about, you should know about them and what you can do to relieve the situations.
For example, you should know that IBD is different from IBS. IBD is defined as a structural disease, which means the symptoms are caused by some type of physical damage.
Ulcers, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are all considered to be inflammatory bowel diseases. IBS is considered to be a functional disease – meaning symptoms are experienced but no physical problem is found.
Both IBD and IBS cause constipation, bloating, diarrhea and stomach pain which can be both embarrassing and present a real problem if you enjoy an active lifestyle. Symptoms of both IBS and IBD might include blood in the stool, fever, worsening issues, inflammation – especially in the joints, eyes or skin – and weight loss.
Treatment for both might include controlling the inflammation with immunosuppressive drugs or, in some cases, surgery. Heartburn (GERD) is painful and may be difficult to deal with.
With acid reflux, the stomach acid flows into the esophagus (the tube connecting the throat and stomach) and heartburn is a symptom of GERD. You may be able to use over-the-counter medications for an occasional bout with heartburn and some modifications in your lifestyle might be in order.
For example, avoid certain foods such as chocolate, citrus, garlic, onion and spicy foods just before bedtime. Try eating smaller meals throughout the day. If you smoke – quit. If you’re overweight or obese try to lose the weight with dietary changes and exercise.
You can also try placing blocks under the head of the bed to raise it a few inches while you sleep. If antacids or acid-blocking medications and changing your lifestyle habits don’t work, you should be tested to see if you have a problem that would warrant another type of medication or surgery in extreme cases.
Gas, belching and bloating are all uncomfortable conditions and very embarrassing when you’re around people. Most of the time, all three conditions are caused by swallowing air or the way your food breaks down during the digestive process.
Some people have occasional bouts with these digestive issues, while others may suffer from them repeatedly on a daily basis. With these three issues, one thing leads to another.
For example, when built-up gas isn’t passed out of the system by flatulence or belching, it will likely gather in the stomach or intestines and cause bloating. This condition can cause stomach pain.
Having a bowel movement or passing gas may help to relieve any of these situations. Some ways you can relieve the problems of gas, belching and bloating include avoiding eating fatty foods on an empty stomach, stress and anxiety, smoking, drinking carbonated beverages or eating gassy foods such as beans, cabbage and onions.
Your situation may also be caused by a disease, blockage or infection of the gastrointestinal tract, IBS or other problems in the intestinal tract. If changes in your lifestyle and medications don’t help your situation, see a doctor for a complete checkup.
Frequent stomach pain and cramps are red flags that signal you should see a doctor. You might be suffering from IBD, IBS or a structural disease. Your doctor will likely run a series of tests to help diagnose the issue and determine which treatment to use.
Less Common Digestive Issues That Can Make You Miserable
There are numerous digestive issues that go beyond the norm of common digestive problems and need further diagnosis to define the real issue. For example, peptic ulcers can cause horrid stomach pain which is further exacerbated by painkillers you might take to alleviate the misery.
Over 25 million Americans will suffer from peptic ulcers at some point in their lives. Smoking may cause the problem – or alcohol and stress may also contribute to the disease or at least exacerbate it or delay the healing process.
Peptic ulcers may be treated with antibiotics and perhaps combined with acid reducing medications. Perforated ulcers may need laparoscopic repair surgery to completely eradicate the problem.
Diverticulitis is more common in those Americans older than age 70, but only about 20% of those with the disease will experience severe complications. Diverticulitis occurs when a diverticula (abnormal bulge) protrudes from the intestinal wall.
The bulge may cause a tear or become inflamed and cause severe pain. One way to avoid diverticulitis is to eat lots of popcorn and nuts. If you have an extreme case of diverticulitis, your symptoms may include vomiting, fever and tenderness in the abdomen requiring surgery.
Gallstones are almost certain to require treatment. They’re made up of little stone-like substances largely made from bile salts and cholesterol. The best treatment is to remove the gallbladder by surgery – which is one of the most common procedures in medicine.
Sometimes the stones inside the gallbladder become stuck in the ducts between the small intestine and the liver. When this happens, the flow of bile is blocked and inflammation or infection of the gallbladder may occur.
Gallstones are said to occur because of a lack of fiber and too much fat in your diet. Gaining and losing weight may also set the gallbladder up for gallstones. Removal of the gallbladder can be done in several ways, including laparoscopic surgery or surgery through the vagina or mouth.
Lactose intolerance is also become a problem among Americans. Those who suffer from the condition likely lack an enzyme needed for digestion of the sugar found in milk. Symptoms include bloating, gas, nausea, cramping and diarrhea.
A breath test can usually detect lactose intolerance and the high levels of hydrogen associated with the condition. A blood test may also indicate the problem by showing how the blood reacts to the patient drinking a beverage high in lactose such as milk.
If lactose intolerance is detected, over-the-counter pills can help by replacing the enzyme (lactase) and by only ingesting lactose-free milk. It’s usually not necessary to avoid all dairy products.
Medical Tests for Digestive Disorders
If medication and lifestyle changes aren’t helping your digestive issues, a doctor can order some tests that will diagnose the ailment and put you on the track for recovery and relief.
A clinical examination is first on the list of tests and may help the doctor diagnose such disorders a constipation, extreme acidity and diarrhea problems. A blood test may be in order to see how your liver is functioning, monitor your blood count, pancreatic enzyme test and lactose tolerance testing.
Your doctor may also order a stool analysis to assess the functionality of your GI tract. The test profile may be used to diagnose such conditions as constipation, diarrhea, IBS, indigestion, malabsorption and infection.
If the test reveals higher than normal levels of fat in the stool, it may be a sign of pancreatitis or celiac disease. If there’s a high pH level, it could be an indication of cancer or some type of inflammation.
An endoscopy is in order if you’ve suffered from long bouts of acidity or heartburn, sudden or unexplained weight loss or changes in your bowel habits. An endoscopy is non-surgical, but lets the doctor thoroughly examine the stomach or digestive tract for abnormalities.
During the procedure, the doctor may gather small samples of tissue for biopsy. This test will help them detect polyps or cancer cells which may be causing a digestive issue. An endoscopy ultrasound test is sometimes utilized to help diagnose problems in the upper intestine.
A renal function test may be done using gadolinium with contrast agents that are commonly used in CT scans and MRIs. If you’re experiencing failing kidneys, the kidney function testing may be done before the CT scan or MRI of the renal area.
A device called a manometer is used to measure movement and muscle pressure in the GI tract and oesophagal. Anorectal manometry is used to measure how the anal sphincter muscle contracts.
Barium X-rays are used to help the healthcare provider view the stomach and small intestines. It’s usually given through the rectum in an enema. This test can help diagnose gastrointestinal problems such as ulcerations, narrowing of the gut and fistulae problems.
A breath test may be used to diagnose such conditions as lactose intolerance. If sugars in your diet aren’t completely absorbed by the small intestine, the bacteria in the colon may produce hydrogen gas.
If you’re lactose intolerant, the breath levels of hydrogen will be extreme. You may also be experiencing a high growth of bacteria in the small intestine, which then may be absorbed into the blood and transferred to the lungs.
Abdominal ultrasound, MRI and CT scans are sometimes used to examine the blood vessels in the organs, liver, pancreas and gall bladder. These high-frequency sound waves let the physician view real time images of the internal organs, blood vessels and surrounding tissue.
Monitoring the pH level may be in order to diagnose such digestive problems as GERD. You’ll be measuring the amount of stomach acid within the esophagus within a 24 hour period and can also test the effectiveness of medications you may be taking.
The pH test involves passing a sensor on a thin tube through the nose and placing it just above the esophageal sphincter. This will detect the amount of acid that enters the esophagus during the time period.
A diseased liver may cause digestive problems that should be addressed immediately. A test called transient elastography is non-invasive and can let the physician record the elasticity of the liver and test liver fibrosis.
The test involves inserting a small transducer probe into the liver which delivers a 50-MHz wave. The velocity of the wave is measured and the measurements are then used to diagnose the liver’s stiffness.
The more information you have about digestive issues the better able you are to discern if you have one – or to take measures to prevent a problem in the future. There is a ton of information you can gather from medical websites.
You don’t have to suffer from one or more of these digestive issues in silence. Americans, especially, are experiencing growing digestive problems and even becoming a growing burden by the number of clinic visits and hospitalizations necessary for treatment.
There are also growing organizations which address problems such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis which are the most common of the inflammatory bowel diseases. The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America can offer a wealth of information about gastrointestinal disorders. Don’t let digestive issues and disorders wreak your life. Get out there and discuss it with others to find help and relief.