Digestive Health Issues and How to Manage Them

digestive health

I think it’s time we looked at a list of all the digestive health issues and how to manage them. You’ve probably faced some of them yourself at some point. They can be simple, like gas, or painful, like a large variety of digestive problems. Symptoms can often be controlled by good information and nutrition, and here the experts tell us how.

Digestive Health Issues and How to Manage Them

Indigestion

The symptoms of indigestion may include: Gas • Nausea • Acidic taste • Growling stomach • Abdominal pain • Burning in the stomach

Also called dyspepsia, indigestion is a feeling of fullness or discomfort during or after a meal. “Indigestion is one of the most common symptoms we see in gastroenterology,” says Dr. Preston Stewart, a gastroenterologist at Digestive Healthcare of Georgia. “We always start by evaluating your diet. There are a number of triggers like fatty foods, citrus, peppermint, chocolate, alcohol, and caffeinated beverages. There are also a number of over-the-counter medicines that can cause indigestion, and a common category is the NSAIDs. This includes Ibuprofen, Aleve, and Advil. These can contribute to injury to the upper GI tract.”

A person’s risk for indigestion increases with alcohol consumption, as well as the use of drugs like aspirin that may irritate the stomach. If indigestion doesn’t improve after eliminating these triggers, your doctor may prescribe medications. But if indigestion is accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, or pain radiating to the jaw, neck, or arm, seek medical attention immediately.

Acid Reflux (Heartburn)

The symptoms of acid reflux may include: Heartburn • Chest pains • Nausea • Regurgitation

Heartburn is often used interchangeably with acid reflux, and it is the symptom you feel when acid splashes up and out of the stomach and irritates the esophagus. About 10 percent of Americans experience heartburn on a daily basis, and up to 50 percent of women experience it while pregnant.

A common cause of this problem is too much food in the stomach. Foods high in fat and oil can lead to heartburn, as well as certain medications. Stress can also be a trigger because it increases the acid production that causes heartburn. Generally speaking, heartburn is caused by too much pressure on the stomach, which is why obese people and pregnant women experience this condition. Most doctors will recommend antacids for infrequent heartburn, and drugs like Prevacid, Prilosec, or Nexium for chronic episodes.

Occasional heartburn isn’t dangerous, but chronic heartburn can indicate serious problems and can develop into gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). “More serious conditions such as cancer may mimic symptoms of heartburn,” says Dr. Tanvi Dhere, assistant professor of the division of digestive diseases at Emory University. “You should seek medical attention if your symptoms do not improve with the use of over the counter antacids, you are losing weight unexpectedly, you have difficulty swallowing, or you develop dark, tarry appearing stools. You should also consult with your physician if you have a strong family history of esophageal or gastric cancer.”

Lactose Intolerance

The symptoms of lactose intolerance may include: Abdominal pain • Abdominal bloating • Gas • Diarrhea • Nausea

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products. Symptoms typically occur 30 minutes to two hours after eating or drinking milk products, and while this condition isn’t dangerous, it can be very uncomfortable.

Children can be lactose intolerant, but it is more likely to develop in adulthood as our bodies begin to produce less lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose. While it isn’t possible to outgrow this condition, it is manageable with diet. “Depending on the severity, some people with lactose intolerance are able to consume up to 10 grams of lactose a day,” says Megan Mohannadione, clinical dietician at Emory Bariatric Center. “Most people also do well with lower-lactose dairy foods such as hard and soft cheeses, yogurt, buttermilk, and goat’s milk. If you can’t tolerate any kind of dairy, use soymilk and be sure to eat a variety of green, leafy vegetables and salmon for calcium and vitamin D.”

Crohn’s & Colitis

Both colitis and Crohn’s disease are classified as inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). This is the general name for diseases that cause inflammation in the intestines. Colitis is a general term for a number of causes that result in swelling of the large intestine. Crohn’s is a chronic disorder that causes inflammation of the digestive or gastrointestinal (GI) tract, resulting in pain that can make the intestines empty frequently, causing diarrhea.

Crohn’s disease can be difficult to diagnose, as the symptoms are very similar to other digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and ulcerative colitis. “Diarrhea and abdominal pain may be seen in both diseases,” says Dr. Dhere. “However, patients with inflammatory bowel disease may experience unexpected weight loss, loss of appetite, rectal bleeding, or periodic fevers, which are not commonly seen in IBS patients.” Full list of issues here.

While these were just a few of the possible digestive health issues and how to manage them, the full story lists everything a person might come down with. Diet is the most important consideration, so say the experts. Since the gut has to deal with digestion, absorption, toxins, and elimination treat it well and it should carry you throughout your life without too many serious problems.