A gastrointestinal symptom is often an ordinary reaction you get when you eat something spicy. There is a very high chance that you have previously experienced a symptom: acid reflux, gas, indigestion, heartburn, etc. They are a nuisance, but usually don’t last that long, and you forget about them in a day or so. In other cases, gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms can be tenacious, and people can suffer from the constant discomfort.
Many people who experience chronic symptoms, turn out to actually have a GI disease. In many instances—since the symptoms don’t seem to be life-threatening—people will just deal with the discomfort, not knowing they have a disease. But if left untreated, some GI diseases can be harmful to you body and lead to a series of bigger, more serious problems. Below are some common gastrointestinal diseases and how to treat them.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a condition in which a patient will experience symptoms of acid reflux frequently. There are varying degrees of severity, and in the most severe cases, people suffer from daily heartburn. Other patients may have lesser symptoms such as hoarseness or a cough as a result of repeated reflux.
If left untreated, this persistent reflux can cause inflammation and swelling of the esophagus. Prolonged irritation can lead to esophagitis, a more serious condition in which ulcers or hemorrhaging can occur. In life-threatening cases, GERD can lead to Barrett’s esophagus—cellular changes to the lower esophagus lining—and can lead to esophageal cancer.
Treating GERD and its symptoms, as with most gastrointestinal diseases, will most likely require a change in lifestyle. As it is a digestive issue, one way to treat or prevent reflux is to change your diet. Avoid foods that will facilitate reflux, such as garlic and onions, fried foods, and caffeine. Make sure not to eat just before you lie down for bed, and you may even have to adjust your sleeping position with your head raised to prevent heartburn. There is over-the-counter medicine for mild to moderate symptoms, as well as prescription medication for more severe reflux. For the people who can’t find relief in medicine or changes in diet, surgery is an option.
You could go your whole life with a small, or sliding, hiatal hernia and never know it. However, if you have a large, or fixed, hiatal hernia, you will experience reflux symptoms, gas, and abdominal pain, as well as vomiting blood or black bowel movements. A hernia occurs when tissues or an organ—in the case of a hiatal hernia, the organ is the stomach—protrudes through damaged muscles or other weakened parts of the body. In the event of a hiatal hernia, the muscles have weakened around the opening in the diaphragm (hiatus) that allows the esophagus to pass through to the stomach. This allows the upper part of the stomach to poke up through the diaphragm into the chest cavity.
This obstructs the diaphragm functions above the stomach, which essentially is to keep the contents of the stomach in the stomach. One of the contents of the stomach is stomach acid, which causes the reflux symptoms. Recurrent reflux over a long period can escalate and lead to GERD. Although, hiatal hernia symptoms are often not felt—in fact, you usually don’t know you have one until you are getting checked for something else and your doctor happens to notice it—it still can become a serious health issue.
Treatment for a hiatal hernia also involves:
- A change in lifestyle.
- Reducing portions of your meals and acidic or spicy foods.
- Eating at least three hours before bed, as well as repositioning how you sleep.
Antacids are available both over-the-counter, as well as prescriptions for stronger symptoms. In rare instances, when a change in lifestyle or medicine is not enough, surgery can be performed to get the portion of the stomach to the right place, and to tighten the diaphragm around the esophagus.
Sufferers of celiac disease are genetically predisposed to this autoimmune disorder. Celiac disease occurs because of an immune response to gluten in which the body attacks its own small intestine. Damaging the intestine’s villi, it hurts the ability for the body’s proper absorption of essential nutrients.
One cause of celiac disease is hereditary, but a more immediate cause would be gluten consumption. Gluten in found in common foods such as breads, pastas, sauces, beer, and baked goods. With gluten being in so many foods, and prompting such a strong reaction from your body, it’s especially important to pay attention to what and where you’re eating so you can react and treat symptoms properly.
Symptoms vary from children—who mostly experience digestive issues—to adults who can have more serious issues, as they have probably been experiencing symptoms longer. Symptoms for adults include: anemia (as a result of lack of nutrients), itchy or blistering skin rashes, infertility or miscarriage, and weak or brittle bones.
There is no known cure for celiac disease. However doctors strongly recommend patients to a change in diet. Gluten-free foods can relieve all the symptoms of celiac disease, even the slightest ingestion, such as bread crumbs off of the cutting board, can set off gluten symptoms and your body’s destructive reaction.
Gastrointestinal diseases and symptoms are very common, and there are a lot more than GERD, hiatal hernias, and celiac disease. It’s important to know the symptoms,and to be able to treat them properly so they don’t get agitated into serious health problems. It’s normal to have digestive issues every once in awhile, but if it becomes a routine occurrence, check with your doctor so that it doesn’t turn into something worse than just indigestion.