Digestive issues are very prevalent in the modern Western world, and while uncomfortable, some may actually be dangerous if left untreated. Here are 5 of the most common, and what to do about them…
Most people experience some type of digestive health conditions at some point in their lives. Sometimes they are temporary, while other digestive issues may be more persistent. Here are five of the most common digestive health ailments, and what you can do if you suffer from one (or more) of them.
1.) Lactose Intolerance
With lactose intolerance, symptoms of cramping, bloating, gas, nausea and diarrhea usually show up within 30 minutes to two hours after consuming milk or a dairy product containing the milk sugar lactose. A doctor can confirm diagnosis with a breath or blood test, or a test for stool acidity.
Because the intolerance is caused by the lack of the enzyme lactase, it can be replaced by over-the-counter enzyme pills in many cases. Otherwise, there are many lactose-free products on the market that can be used by those with lactose intolerance as a substitute for lactose-containing products.
2.) Peptic Ulcers
Stress does not cause ulcers by itself, but it may aggravate pre-existing conditions. Ulcers are sores in the lining of the intestines. Causes can be alcohol, smoking, prolonged use of a NSAID like aspirin, or the bacteria Heliobacter pylori commonly called H. pylori. If you have high amounts of these micro-organisms in your digestive tract, they can eat through the protective layer of mucus in the stomach or upper small intestine.
If left untreated, peptic ulcers can cause internal bleeding which shows up as a black tarry substance in the stool. Over time, it can even eat a hole in the stomach wall or small intestine! This can lead to a serious infection in the abdominal cavity, and should be taken seriously.
3.) Acid Reflux
Commonly known as heartburn, acid reflux is a backup of stomach acid up into the esophagus. A recent Swedish study found 6% of the participants experienced reflux daily, and 14% weekly. Reflux is one of the most common digestive issues. In fact, according to some surveys, acid reflux impacts up to 35% of the U.S. population!
Conventional treatment usually involves drugs like Nexium, Prevacid or Prilosec to reduce the amount of stomach acid. However, this should not be considered a long-term cure, as these drugs may have harmful effects on your health with long-term use.
In severe cases, surgeons can tighten the muscle between the stomach and esophagus to prevent acid from leaking upward. A functional medicine doctor may be able to help you assess your dietary habits and food sensitivities to find out what is causing the problem and address the root cause.
4.) Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
IBD is a catch-all term for two digestive problems – Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis (UC). People with IBD usually experience abdominal pain and diarrhea, along with anemia, rectal bleeding, and weight loss just to name a few of the symptoms.
Both Crohn’s disease and UC develop from an autoimmune disorder that results in ulcers. The difference between the two is with UC the ulcers are usually confined to the lower colon or rectum and are characterized by bleeding and pus. With Crohn’s disease, the ulcer can develop anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract and can lead to infection or blockage, the latter requiring surgery.
The causes of these inflammatory diseases are still unknown, but certain foods such as dairy products or gluten-containing foods may make them worse. Avoiding these foods entirely – as well as any others that you may be sensitive to – may be a good first step in seeking relief.
Laxatives are a $725 million dollar market in America, but don’t be too quick to rush out and buy some if you experiencing this common digestive issue. It is easy for the intestines to become dependent on their use thus making it harder to go on your own.
Many people are under the assumption they must have a bowel movement every day – or multiple times per day. In fact, regular bowel movements can range anywhere from three times a day to a few times per week. How often is not as important as whether your body sticks to some kind of regular schedule.
However if you have not had a bowel movement in a week, now would be a good time to visit your doctor. Going that long results in hard stools that are difficult to pass and the straining to go can lead to hemorrhoids or anal fissures, neither of which are any fun!
If you have trouble with difficult bowel movements, eating probiotic foods or taking probiotics, along with eating a diet high in fiber, drinking plenty of water, and getting regular exercise is usually the best solution.
While most digestive issues are uncomfortable, some can be quite dangerous if left untreated. If you are experiencing any of the ailments in this article on a routine basis, see a doctor to discuss your options for treating the problem and finding relief.