A Guide To Digestive Disorders
Mouse over any of the targets on the illustration to the left for a quick reference guide to some of the most common digestive disorders and their symptoms:
Barrett’s Esophagus is a condition in which the color and composition of the cells lining your lower esophagus change because of repeated exposure to stomach acid. This exposure to stomach acid is most often a result of long-term gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) — a chronic regurgitation of acid from your stomach into your lower esophagus.
Barrett’s Esophagus does not have any specific symptoms, but heartburn and acid regurgitation — the bad-tasting liquid that enters the mouth from the throat — is a common indicator of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can lead to Barrett’s Esophagus.
Other signs and symptoms of GERD, Barrett’s Esophagus or esophageal cancer include:
- Trouble swallowing — Often due to the narrowing of the esophagus.
- Weight loss — Unexpected or with loss of appetite.
- Bleeding — Vomiting blood or passing black stools.
Between 60 to 70 million Americans suffer from heartburn, and 25 million of them deal with this condition on a daily basis. And although GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is this common, it often goes unrecognized — its symptoms misunderstood.
Heartburn, or reflux, occurs when small amounts of stomach acid rise up into the esophagus, or the swallowing tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach.
You can have GERD without having heartburn. Your symptoms could be excessive clearing of the throat, problems swallowing, the feeling that food is stuck in your throat, burning in the mouth, or pain in the chest.
Constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal complaints in the United States. Constipation is the passage of small amounts of hard, dry bowel movements, usually fewer than three times a week. People who are constipated may find it difficult and painful to have a bowel movement. Other symptoms of constipation include feeling bloated, uncomfortable, and sluggish.
Common causes of constipation are:
- not enough fiber in the diet
- not enough liquids
- lack of exercise
- irritable bowel syndrome
- changes in life or routine such as pregnancy, older age, and travel
- abuse of laxatives
- ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
- specific diseases such as stroke (by far the most common)
- problems with the colon and rectum
- problems with intestinal function (chronic idiopathic constipation)
Diverticulosis are pouches or outward sacs from the bowel wall. They most commonly form in the colon, but may also occur in the esophagus, stomach and intestine. Diverticulosis is usually without symptoms, but may be associated with some bowel irregularity. Diverticulitis occurs if one of the pouches becomes infected with a break in the wall. Abdominal pain and fever may occur accompanied with nausea, vomiting and change in bowels. Antibiotics may resolve the problem, but surgery may be required. It is one of the few diseases which may be more difficult to treat in the younger patient.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a disorder characterized most commonly by the following symptoms: cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. Some patients have predominantly diarrhea or constipation while others switch back and forth between diarrhea and constipation within several days. As many as one in five American adults have IBS, but only a small percentage of people with the disorder have severe signs and symptoms.
The causes of IBS are unknown, but most of those that have the disorder may have an intestine that is particularly sensitive to certain foods and stress. A few patients may develop the problems after a bowel infection such as, traveler’s diarrhea. Irritable bowel syndrome can cause a great deal of discomfort and distress, but it does not permanently harm the intestines and does not lead to cancer or other serious bowel issues. The best way to control IBS in many cases is by managing your diet, lifestyle and stress.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women and the second most common cause of cancer deaths. Colorectal cancer begins in either the colon or the rectum, part of the digestive tract, also called the GI (gastrointestinal) tract, where food is processed to create energy and rid the body of waste.
In its early stages, colorectal cancer may show no symptoms. For this reason, it is very important to have regular colorectal cancer prevention examinations, or screenings. When symptoms are present, the cancer may still be curable if not ignored.
The symptoms of colorectal cancer may include:
- Change in bowel habits (constipation or diarrhea)
- Blood on or in the stool (not always visible to naked eye)
- Unexplained anemia
- Unusual abdominal or gas pain
- Unexplained weight loss