Gastrointestinal

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Bloating and Gas Disorders

Bloating occurs when gas builds up inside the stomach or intestines as the body breaks food down, causing the abdomen to become swollen. Symptoms of bloating may include mild discomfort or pain in the abdominal area and excessive gas, or flatulence.

Bloating is often caused by eating fatty or high-carbohydrate foods, drinking carbonated beverages, or eating very quickly. In some cases, bloating may be linked to an existing health condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance or celiac disease.

Many cases of bloating can be resolved by making dietary changes, eating at a slower pace, or taking over-the-counter antacids to help break up gas. If the condition does not improve with such changes, or the patient experiences chest pain, bloody stools or severe abdominal pain, it is important to consult a doctor, since these symptoms may be a sign of a more serious digestive problem.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease, also known as celiac sprue or gluten sensitive enteropathy, is an autoimmune disease that affects children and adults. It is a chronic digestive disorder that results in reaction to foods that contain gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. It is most often found in foods like bread, pasta, and pizza crust, but can also be found in products like medicine and lipstick. While this condition was once considered rare, it now affects more than 2 million people in the United States.

When gluten is consumed, the villi, which absorb nutrients from food and are located in the small intestine, attack themselves and prevent food from being absorbed into the bloodstream. This leads to malabsorption. The cause of celiac disease is unknown, but it tends to run in families.

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Constipation

Constipation affects most people at some point in time. A person is considered to be constipated if they have three or fewer bowel movements in a week or if they do have a bowel movement they are hard, dry or painful. Depending on how often a bowel movement normally occurs will determine what is considered to be "infrequent" for each individual patient, but constipation is usually defined as fewer than three movements a week.

Diarrhea

Diarrhea involves having bowel movements that are watery and loose at least three times in a day. It may also cause a sense of urgency, cramps and stomach upset. Diarrhea can be brought on by bacteria, parasites, disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, medication or food intolerances. In most cases, diarrhea is not a long-lasting or serious condition. However, if it lingers for more than three days, is accompanied by a fever or severe abdominal pain or you notice blood in your stool, it is important to visit your doctor for an examination.

Heartburn

Heartburn is a painful condition that is typically characterized by a burning sensation in the chest area. Heartburn occurs when the stomach acid used for food digestion travels upward into the esophagus. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including eating spicy foods, stress, drinking alcohol, smoking or taking certain medications. Recurrent heartburn is usually a sign of a serious condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

A series of diagnostic tests are conducted to determine whether a patient is suffering from heartburn related to GERD. These tests may include upper gastrointestinal endoscopy and X-rays of the upper digestive system. While there is no cure for heartburn, the condition is often highly manageable with dietary changes. In addition, heartburn may be relieved by taking over-the-counter medications, such as antacids, to help neutralize stomach acids.

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS or spastic colon, is a group of chronic symptoms that are caused by a disorder of the gastrointestinal tract. IBS is not a disease, but a functional disorder, where the bowel is not able to function correctly. In most cases, IBS can be treated effectively and does not cause permanent damage to the colon like other intestinal disorders.

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Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms that may be caused by a number of conditions. Some of these conditions include acute gastritis, signals from the brain, reaction from medication, obstruction of the bowel or another unrelated illness.

Acute gastritis is the most common cause of nausea and vomiting and is characterized by an inflammation of the stomach. Inflammation can be caused by an infection, stomach flu, food poisoning, peptic ulcer disease or other stomach irritants.

Relieving nausea and vomiting is usually done by treating the underlying cause of the symptoms. Resting the stomach by only consuming clear liquids can help ease the stomach back to a healthy state.

Peptic Ulcer Disease

A peptic ulcer is a sore or lesion that develops in the lining of the esophagus, stomach or duodenum. It is commonly believed that ulcers form as a result of stress or poor eating habits. It has been found, however, that 90 percent of ulcers are caused by Helicobacter pylori, also known as H. pylori, a bacterium that lives on the lining of the stomach. Other causes of an ulcer may include the following:

  • Smoking
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Stress
  • Excessive use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents, or NSAIDs

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