What Are Digestive Disorders?

Digestive disorders affect your digestive tract and can cause serious health concerns. The most common are chronic constipation, food intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, GERD, and diverticulitis. Learn about the symptoms, treatments, and causes.

9 minute read

Last Updated June 24, 2020

Digestive Disorders - Digestive Guide - 1MD

Digestive disorders are conditions that impact your digestive tract and interfere with nutrient absorption as well as waste disposal. Your digestive system runs from your mouth to your rectum and is a very intricate and extensive system. Any disorders can be problematic for your health, and if left untreated can cause more serious and chronic conditions.

The most common digestive disorders are chronic constipation, food intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, GERD, and diverticulitis. 

What Causes Digestive Disorders?

The causes of digestive disorders will vary depending on the disorder that you have. 

GERD and acid reflux are caused by a malfunctioning lower esophageal sphincter that allows stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus. Constipation can be caused by food intolerance or a lack of fiber and water in the diet. Irritable bowel syndrome is thought to be related to stress, and symptoms are triggered specifically by inflammation.

Digestive Disorders Symptoms

Depending on the digestive disorder you have, the symptoms will vary. There are common signs to look for that will indicate a general problem within your digestive tract. You should consult your doctor for further analysis.

♦ Bleeding
Chronic gas and bloating
Constipation
Diarrhea
Heartburn
♦ Incontinence
♦ Problems swallowing
♦ Unexplained weight gain or loss

Digestive Disorders Diagnosis

Your doctor will discuss your symptoms first to help identify the digestive disorder, and then the doctor will order tests to confirm a more specific diagnosis. Imaging can be done to examine the esophagus and stomach as well as colon and rectum. Blood tests will evaluate if anemia or any malnutrition and stool tests will identify any bacterial or viral infection. 

Your doctor may also have you do elimination diets to determine if you have any food intolerances causing the symptoms.

Treatment for Digestive Disorders

GERD, heartburn, or acid reflux needs to be treated with antacid medications or drugs that help to reduce acid production, such as proton pump inhibitors. Food intolerance and diverticulitis can be treated by avoiding the foods that cause symptoms. Medications to help control inflammation can also be taken. 

For the most part, dietary and lifestyle changes can help ease symptoms and promote healthier digestion.

Digestive Disorders Diet

What you eat significantly impacts your digestive system and contributes to a number of common digestive disorders. Eliminating foods you have an intolerance for is the first step, and after that try including foods that promote optimal digestion. This is the best way to approach these conditions.

Yogurt: Yogurt is full of healthy bacteria that support the healthy bacteria already in your gut. These bacteria prevent inflammation and infection and also help promote digestion. They can also prevent common digestive issues such as diarrhea and constipation.

Fiber: Eating foods that are full of fiber helps to promote bowel movements, which can eliminate constipation. 

Vegetables: These are full of fiber, water, and powerful antioxidants that promote optimal digestive health. In addition, they are naturally low in sugar, which reduces stomach acid production and can prevent acid reflux and GERD.

Oatmeal: Oats are full of fiber to promote healthy bowel movements, and they have the ability to absorb stomach acid. The reduction in stomach acid can prevent reflux and soothe an irritated stomach and intestinal lining.

Natural Treatments for Digestive Disorders

Acid reflux and GERD can be caused by being overweight, so losing weight will help reduce the symptoms associated with those disorders. A balanced diet and regular exercise will help you lose weight and will also improve digestion. 

Many digestive disorders are also aggravated or created by stress, so stress-reducing techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep-breathing are recommended to reduce this problem.

Inflammation also plays a role in contributing to digestive disorders, but this can be reduced by including certain natural supplements in your diet.

Turmeric: The main compound in this spice, curcumin, is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, which for centuries has been used to treat inflammatory-related issues effectively.

Omega-3 fatty acids: These fatty acids are full of antioxidant compounds that help protect from oxidative damage and inflammation. They also allow for the healing of damaged intestinal walls.

Ginger: This has been used for centuries to treat common digestive issues such as nausea and vomiting. Ginger has also been shown to reduce inflammation when taken regularly. 

Digestive Disorders Surgery

Dietary changes and medical treatments will effectively reduce symptoms for most digestive disorders. It is important to follow the diet and medication recommendations of your doctor so as not to get any relapse in symptoms or discomfort. In severe cases, where other treatment options have not worked, surgery may be an option. This is restricted to cases of severe ulcers or even cancerous growths. 

What Are the Variations of Digestive Disorders?

Chronic Constipation

This is one of the most common digestive disorders in the country. Constipation is characterized by difficulty passing stools through your digestive tract. You will experience bloating as well as abdominal pain.

Food Intolerance

When your digestive system cannot tolerate certain foods, it reacts, and you experience bloating, diarrhea, irritability, heartburn, and even vomiting. Intolerance is not the same as food allergies, which are more serious and can cause hives as well as respiratory problems.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

This is an inflammatory-related common disorder that impacts the large intestine and causes bloating, abdominal pain, and constipation or diarrhea. It is a chronic condition that needs to be managed with dietary changes.

GERD

This condition consists of more frequent occurrences of heartburn. It also impacts your esophagus and can cause a dry cough, chest discomfort, and a sore throat, along with digestive issues.

Diverticulitis

This is the inflammation of the small pouches (diverticula) that develop along the intestinal walls. The pouches alone are benign, but when they’re inflamed or infected, the condition develops.

Digestive Disorders Statistics

♦ Digestive disorders are estimated to affect between 60 and 70 million people in the United States.
♦ 4 million people in the U.S. report having regular constipation and difficulty emptying bowels.
♦ Close to 200,000 adults are hospitalized every year with diverticulitis and complications from the disorder.
♦ The prevalence of food intolerance is higher among women than men.
♦ 15.3 million people are diagnosed each year with stomach or intestinal ulcers.
♦ On average, there are 8 million visits to the emergency room each year for digestive system conditions.

Digestive Disorders and Children

Children can develop the same digestive disorders as adults, and symptoms are generally the same. It is important to treat these disorders in children right away to prevent interference with nutrient absorption and proper growth and development. 

The most common digestive disorders in children include colic, diarrhea, food allergies, and lactose intolerance. Treatment will involve medications for some cases, while others will benefit from dietary changes. 

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

Digestive disorders are common but easy to treat. The typical western diet is full of unhealthy fats, sugar, and processed foods that do not help your digestive system and can contribute to a number of these problems. 

With a healthy diet and regular exercise, and avoiding stress as well as foods that you have an intolerance for, the outlook for having any of these common digestive disorders is very good. 

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