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Improving Digestive Health: 5 Common Gastrointestinal Conditions

72%

That’s how many Americans report living with some sort of gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort, though few talk about it or seek medical care.

If you’re part of that majority, there are steps you can take to identify possible conditions, alleviate symptoms and improve digestive health. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms below in the extreme, seek medical help immediately.

Constipation

Definition: Bowel movements that are difficult, infrequent or incomplete

Causes: Not enough fiber in the diet, disruption to normal diet

Treatments:

  • Increase intake of fiber through foods or supplements recommended by your doctor
  • Exercise regularly
  • Move your bowels when you have the urge
  • Use laxatives only as a temporary solution

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Definition: A condition in which the colon muscle contracts more (IBS) or less often (IBS with constipation) than in people without IBS

Causes: Certain foods, medicines and stress can trigger IBS, or there may be a structural issue that causes the colon not to function properly. Women are twice as likely to have IBS.

Symptoms: Abdominal pain and cramps, excess gas, bloating and alternating constipation and diarrhea

Treatments:

  • Avoid caffeine
  • Increase fiber
  • Monitor which foods trigger IBS and avoid them
  • Minimize stress
  • Talk to your doctor about prescription medications

Crohn’s Disease

Definition: Bowel disease that causes the digestive tract to become inflamed

Causes: The exact cause of Crohn’s disease remains unknown

Symptoms: Abdominal pain, diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, malnutrition, blood in stool

Treatments: Crohn’s treatments vary widely — everything from corticosteroids to surgery — so it’s key to see a doctor as soon as you notice a pattern of symptoms, but here are a few things you can do on your own to decrease symptoms:

  • Limit dairy in case of lactose intolerance
  • Try low-fat foods (fat gets processed through the digestive tract more quickly)
  • Identify and avoid problem foods such as alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods
  • Eat small meals
  • Drink plenty of liquids
  • Take multivitamins
  • Stop smoking

Acid reflux

Definition: Known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), acid reflux is a long-term condition where stomach contents come back up into the throat

Symptoms: Heartburn, bad breath, chest pain, vomiting, breathing problems and the taste of acid in the back of the mouth

Causes: Reflux can be caused by a stomach abnormality in which the part of the stomach that keeps acid down doesn’t work properly

Treatments:

  • Don’t eat large meals before bedtime or lie down right after eating
  • Keep a healthy weight
  • Limit trigger foods such as citrus, tomato, chocolate, garlic or spicy or fatty foods
  • Decrease intake of alcohol, carbonated drinks, coffee and tea
  • Stop smoking

Ulcers

Definition: Open sores on the lining of the stomach and small intestine

Symptoms: Burning stomach pain, intolerance to fatty foods, heartburn, nausea and a feeling of fullness or bloating

Causes: The most common cause is infection and long-term use of painkillers

Treatments:

  • Decrease stress
  • Don’t eat spicy foods
  • Protect yourself from infections
  • Use caution with pain relievers

For more natural ways to treat digestive disorders, learn more about probiotics here.

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville). As Senior Editor at Parthenon Publishing, she is a writer, editor and social media strategist on projects ranging from Better Tennessee magazine to Unsung Nashville.

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