Gastrointestinal disorders are a common occurrence in US adults, and they’re often easily managed by over-the-counter medicine such as antacids, acid reducers, and anti-diarrhea meds. But they can also be a sign of something more serious. Having a thorough examination and additional testing with Cochise Oncology can not only ensure your digestive system is in good working order, but you may also find longer term relief in the knowledge nothing more serious is going on.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is the most commonly diagnosed GI disorder, but other common diagnoses include heartburn, bloating, constipation, nausea and vomiting, ulcers, biliary tract disorders (gallbladder concerns), diarrhea, and other defecation troubles. Some of these can be symptoms of more serious conditions and can have a significant impact on your quality of life.
Heartburn may be the most common complaint, and it’s caused by the esophageal lining coming into too much contact with stomach acid, digestive enzymes, and other digestion aids. Malfunction of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) valve can lead to Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD.
Indigestion/Dyspepsia is the feeling of fullness while eating, uncomfortable fullness after a meal, and burning pain in the upper abdomen. Indigestion is not the same as heartburn, which is a common misconception. Both conditions can exist at the same time. Symptoms include vomiting, possibly with blood, weight loss, loss of appetite, black or tarry stool, painful swallowing, and abdominal pain.
Ulcers are open sores in the gastric or duodenal location of the digestive system. They’re typically caused by an overabundance of stomach acid. Symptoms include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, or bloating. Bleeding can occur with ulcers, causing changes in the stool and anemia.
Constipation and Diarrhea are two GI disorders at opposite ends of the spectrum. Constipation is defined by waste moving too slowly through the digestive tract. Too much water is absorbed from the stool, making it difficult to pass. Diarrhea is defined by loose stool and is caused by a virus or inflammatory bowels. It can often clear up on its own.
Biliary Tract and Gallbladder Disorders can create gallstones, which are concentrated collections of cholesterol (most common type in the US), bile pigment (bilirubin), or both. Bilirubin stones are more common with blood cell disorders or sickle cell anemia. These can block bile ducts and pancreas ducts.
Most GI disorders are diagnosed after a series of examinations that include a complete medical history and discussion about your eating and lifestyle habits, medications, and patterns of symptoms. Physicians may also order X-Rays of the abdomen, blood and stool tests, and a breath analysis to determine bacteria imbalance. You may also benefit from an upper endoscopy or colonoscopy, in which a camera is threaded through the digestive tract or colon to inspect and possibly biopsy abnormalities. In the case of gallbladder function, further scans with or without contrast may lead to a diagnosis.
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Many GI disorders can be treated with a few small lifestyle changes, such as not eating in the 2 hour prior to bedtime, elevating your upper body while sleeping, and avoiding certain foods that irritate the stomach.
Heartburn treatment is often viewed as maintenance to minimize stomach acid and avoid foods that irritate the stomach lining. Avoiding food and beverages that weaken the LES valve also helps maintain acidic balance. Acid neutralizing medications will also help maintain less irritation to the esophageal lining.
Indigestion/Dyspepsia treatment begins with changing eating habits from big meals to smaller, more closely timed meals, avoiding carbonated, caffeinated, and alcoholic beverages, and decreasing stress. Acid reducers and other prescription medications can also help reduce symptoms.
Ulcers are treated with prescription medications that block acid production. Severe ulcers may need to be cauterized. Treated ulcers generally heal well, and the medications can be stopped.
Constipation can be treated with an enema, where a few ounces of tap water warmed to body temperature are slowly infused into the rectum and sigmoid colon. Passing the water takes the impacted stool with it without damaging the tissues of the rectum and anus. Dietary changes can prevent further episodes. Bulking agents (psyllium husk or methylcellulose) help hold water in the stool. Laxatives or stool softeners are safe to use even long-term provided they’re used responsibly.
Diarrhea is often improved with sugar and salt beverages, which help the intestine absorb more water. Milk and dairy items can worsen diarrhea and should be avoided. Sometimes antibiotics to clear up infections causing the diarrhea are prescribed.
Gallstones are typically treated by endoscopically removing the gallstones or the gallbladder itself. If the procedure is not possible, a medication to break up cholesterol stones, but it takes months and stones can recur.
Are you ready to learn more about GI Disorders? Reach out to Cochise Oncology at (520) 803-6644 or fill out the consultation form on this page.
Cochise Oncology is committed to helping you feel your best, which is why we have created the Cochise Oncology Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps patients pay for their treatments. In addition to diagnosing and treating GI disorders, Cochise Oncology also offers radiation with state-of-the-art tomotherapy, zoft, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, skin biopsies, infusion services, and monthly free skin cancer screenings. We look forward to meeting you!