Digestive Health – That Uncomfortable Feeling
There are many forms of digestive disorders. The most common disorders include heartburn/GERD, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease. With symptoms like bloating, gas, stomach pain, and cramps, your digestive health can leave you feeling uncomfortable a lot of the time.
What can I do?
The type of treatment for a digestive health problem will depend on the disorder itself. Heartburn or GERD has symptoms including chronic cough, chest pain, and burning. You may try treating the symptoms for a while but ultimately you will need to address the cause in order to find relief. Knowing what triggers your heartburn or acid reflux can help with that. Be mindful of what foods seem to increase your symptoms. Also, reducing your weight and stress levels can be helpful.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is inflammation of some part of the intestines and can cause symptoms such as abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea, fever, and weight loss. Exact symptoms depend on which part of the digestive tract is involved. In Crohn’s disease, inflammation can occur anywhere along the digestive tract but affects the deeper layers of the digestive lining which develop lesions. Treatment usually involves reducing inflammation, relieving symptoms like pain, diarrhea and bleeding, and eliminating nutritional deficiencies. Ulcerative colitis shows inflammation and ulcers on the innermost lining of the colon and rectum versus the deeper lesions seen in Crohn’s disease. Treatment will depend on how bad the disease is. For mild symptoms, changes to diet and over-the-counter antidiarrheal medicines will help. For more severe symptoms, prescription medications, biologic medications, and/or surgery may be necessary.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is much more common than IBD and affects about 10-15% of people in North America. Women are almost twice as likely to develop IBS. The causes of IBS are unknown but symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating and abdominal cramps. Treatment will vary depending on the type of symptoms you experience. Monitor your symptoms to help identify triggers. Commonly, limiting caffeine, alcohol, and fatty foods, increasing fiber in your diet, and avoiding foods like beans, cabbage, or uncooked broccoli or cauliflower are ways to avoid discomfort. For some, limiting dairy products, fruit and artificial sweeteners can help as well.
While the disorders above are the most common, there are numerous other digestive health concerns. Conditions like celiac disease, diverticulosis, gallstones, hemorrhoids, lactose intolerance, peptic ulcers, bowel obstruction, and appendicitis all fall within the digestive disorder scope. While some of these disorders are caused by an intolerance, many digestive disorders can be helped by diet and exercise. Adding plenty of fiber to your diet and eating smaller meals will help ease digestion. Drinking plenty of fluid, preferably water, helps your body eliminate waste and prevent constipation. Exercise can help reduce both weight and stress which can be contributing triggers to digestive woes. Finally, if you smoke, consider quitting. Smoking can weaken the valve at the end of the esophagus which can lead to acid reflux and heartburn. It has also been linked to an increased risk for gastrointestinal (digestive system) cancers. Smokers are also have a higher risk of developing peptic ulcers and Crohn’s disease than non-smokers.