Things you need to know
- The GI tract is the passageway involving your digestive organs. Gastrointestinal diseases are the ones that affect your GI tract.
- There are several different types of gastrointestinal disorders. However, some of these diseases are more prevalent and frequent.
- A wide range of these common gastrointestinal diseases can be easily prevented with lifestyle measures and prescribed medication.
About gastrointestinal diseases
Your gastrointestinal tract is a series of organs through which your food and drinks are swallowed, digested, absorbed and leave your body. The GI tract runs from your mouth to the anus.
Gastrointestinal diseases are disorders or illnesses that affect your gastrointestinal tract. These are of two types –
- Functional gastrointestinal diseases
- Structural gastrointestinal diseases
Functional diseases are the ones that look normal on examination but show troubling symptoms while structural diseases affect your digestion due to a structural abnormality.
Common gastrointestinal diseases
Here are some commonly experienced gastrointestinal diseases:
Constipation is a digestive problem in which a person experiences less frequent bowel movement (less than 3 times a week). It also makes it difficult for a person to pass any stool. Constipation is caused as a result of inadequate fibre in your diet or a disruption in your regular dietary habits.
Symptoms: Constipation can cause small and hard stools as well as problems such as anal fissures. It is because constipation causes a person to strain during a bowel movement.
Treatment: Constipation can be effectively treated by increasing your intake of high-fibre foods, exercising regularly and having a bowel movement when you have the urge. If these measures do not work, your gastroenterologist will offer medication to treat constipation.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome is also known as irritable colon. It is a group of diseases that cause your colon muscles to contract more or less than they are supposed to.
Symptoms: Common symptoms of IBS include pain and cramping in the abdomen, excess gas and bloating and change in bowel habits.
Treatment: IBS can be treated by dietary changes such as restricting caffeine intake, increasing fibre, reducing your stress levels, staying hydrated and taking medicines from your healthcare provider.
Hemorrhoids or piles is a condition that causes swelling in the veins that line your anal canal. There are primarily two types of hemorrhoids – internal and external.
Symptoms: Hemorrhoids can cause extreme discomfort especially while passing bowel. Other symptoms include itching and bleeding.
Treatment: The treatment protocols for internal and external hemorrhoids vary. Treatment alternatives include improving your bowel habits and surgical removal of hemorrhoids.
Diarrhea is a condition that causes you to pass watery and loose stools. It is characterised as chronic when the condition persists for more than four weeks. Other gastrointestinal diseases can trigger chronic diarrhea such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn disease and ulcerative colitis) and chronic infections.
Symptoms: Chronic diarrhea is identified by loose, watery stool accompanied with or without a sense of urgency.
Treatment: Treatment is based on the underlying cause of chronic diarrhea. You would be advised to drink plenty of water, eat low-fibre foods and consult a doctor for medication.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease is a digestive problem in which the acid in your stomach travels back into your esophagus and causes irritation in the lining. GERD occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter that connects your stomach and esophagus becomes weak and does not close fully allowing the acid to flow backwards.
Symptoms: GERD symptoms include heartburn, chest pain, difficulty in swallowing, bitterness in the throat and mouth and a sensation of a lump in your throat.
Treatment: GERD is usually treated with the use of medication aimed at alleviating symptoms and strengthening the lower esophageal sphincter.
There are several different types of liver problems. These problems can be inherited or acquired as a result of damage to the liver. Liver diseases can be caused by sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle factors such as obesity and excessive consumption of alcohol. Common liver diseases include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and liver cancer.
Symptoms: The signs and symptoms of different liver problems are different. Common symptoms include jaundice, pain and swelling in the abdomen, swelling in the legs and ankles, itchiness, dark coloured urine, nausea, vomiting and chronic fatigue.
Treatment: The treatment of a liver disease will be based on its type and severity of symptoms. Some diseases can be treated with lifestyle changes while others may require medications or surgery.
Preventing gastrointestinal diseases
Most of the above-mentioned digestive disorders can be effectively prevented with lifestyle recommendations. Preventive measures include:
- Practicing good bowel habits
- Getting routinely screened for cancer
- Understanding your risk
- Eating a well-balanced, healthy diet
- Avoiding fatty foods
- Eating and drinking slowly
- Avoiding smoking
Most gastrointestinal diseases can be effectively prevented and treated.
Healthy gut foods include yoghurt, almonds, kimchi, sourdough, papaya, chia seeds, beets, green peas, broccoli, chickpeas, lentils, beans, whole grains, bananas and apples.
Common signs of gastrointestinal problems include abdominal pain, discomfort, heartburn, fatigue, loss of appetite and vomiting and nausea.