Approximately 50 million Americans visit a doctor's office each year due to digestive issues, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Typically, problems with the gastrointestinal (GI) tract are not a part of aging, so there are things that can be done to keep problems under control or help them to go away entirely.
Many diseases that become more common in older adults have an affect on the GI tract and causes these problems to develop.
Eight common digestive problems
Reflux is a common problem and feels like heartburn, or a burning/stinging sensation coming up from your stomach and into your chest or throat. Additional symptoms include the constant need to clear your throat, a sour taste in your mouth or frequent episodes of coughing. Changing what you eat can help with the problem as foods such as coffee, tea, chocolate, carbonated drinks, spicy foods, alcohol and dairy products can cause reflux.
The condition Diverticulosis is caused when walls of the colon become weak and form pockets or bulges called diverticula. Serious cases include symptoms such as fever, chills, gassiness, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and intense abdominal pain in the lower left abdomen. These areas of trouble can sometimes burst and cause fecal bacteria to be released into the abdomen. Antibiotics are used if an infection is present, and a high-fiber diet can keep symptoms under control.
Peptic Ulcers can be the cause of unexplained stomach pain. If this is the case, you may want to refrain from taking any painkillers as they can make the condition worse. More than 25 million Americans will have a peptic ulcer at some point in their lives. This ailment develops when a protective layer of mucus in the stomach is disrupted by triggers such as smoking and excessive nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Be sure to get ulcers treated as they can cause internal bleeding, and even eat a small hole in the stomach or small intestine.
Nearly 1 million Americans are diagnosed with gallstones each year, though only one-quarter of them need to receive treatment such as removal of the gallbladder. The small pebbles are made of cholesterol and bile salts. Removal of the gallbladder is most necessary if the stones are causing inflammation or an infection in the organ itself. Pain from the gallbladder will be felt in the right upper abdomen, between the shoulder blades or under the right shoulder. Risk factors for gallstones include obesity and a shortage of fiber from an excess intake of fat.
As many as 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant. This means they lack the enzyme lactase, which is needed to digest the main sugar in milk. Symptoms can include cramping, bloating, gas, nausea and diarrhea. Most of time, you'll feel the symptoms within two hours after drinking or eating a dairy product. Over-the-counter pills can help replace the missing enzyme.
Inflammatory bowel disease causes abdominal pain and diarrhea as well as anemia, rectal bleeding and weight loss. The two most common inflammatory bowel diseases are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Most patients are prescribed anti-inflammatories, steroids and immunosuppressants to treat these conditions. Crohn's patients are sometimes given antibiotics too.
Those who suffer from Celiac Disease are unable to eat gluten, which is found in rye, barley and wheat. When these foods are consumed, this autoimmune and digestive disorder will trigger an attack on the small intestine. Symptoms can include abdominal pain and bloating, chronic diarrhea, vomiting, constipation and pale, foul-smelling or fatty stool; however, it varies from person to person. A gluten-free diet is used to manage the disease as there is no known cure.
Americans spend nearly $725 million per year on laxatives to alleviate constipation. Having a bowel movement anywhere from three times a day to three times a week is normal, but discomfort is a sign that you may need to try an over-the-counter solution, such as milk of magnesia. Regular diet and exercise combined with a diet high in fiber can help you avoid constipation as well as staying hydrated.