For some unknown reason, there are more people today complaining of digestive issues than ever before. The digestive tract starts at the mouth and ends at the anus and in between run the stomach, small bowel, colon, and rectum. Each of these organ systems can be affected by a myriad number of disorders but what has become apparent is that most digestive disorders are on the rise by many folds compared to 3-4 decades ago. It is estimated that nearly 25% of the American population has some type of digestive problem on a regular basis. Countless others have never been to the doctor and self treat themselves with Rolaids, Tums, antacids, laxatives, and a variety of herbs.
Common digestive disorders that have become problematic today induce reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcer disease, diverticulitis, constipation, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, lactose intolerance, and gastroenteritis. And what is more important is that the cost of care of these patients has gone up. There are reports from healthcare workers that people with digestive disorders are now making up a majority of their patients and often require exhaustive work up.
Reflux is now more common than ever and it is not only a US observation but also being reported in many other countries. The disorder presents with chest pain or a hot burning sensation that starts in abdomen and radiates to the back of the throat. Sometimes it wakes the person from sleep leaving a very sour or bitter taste. In severe cases, the acid can also be aspirated into lungs. The problem is worse in obese people and the only treatment is use of medications.
Peptic ulcer disease often presents with severe abdominal pain. Today it is believed that at least 25 million Americans have this disorder and in many cases, the cause is the bacteria, H pylori. It is believed that this organism is derived from drinking water and once acquired it quite difficult to treat. Many other cases of peptic ulcer disease have been linked to use of drugs like aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents. In addition, stress, alcohol, smoking, coffee, and certain foods can also aggravate peptic ulcer disease. If the peptic ulcers are left untreated they can cause continuous pain and can even perforate, which is a surgical emergency. Further the bacterium, H pylori, has also been linked to stomach cancer. The treatment of peptic ulcer disease is with use of anti-acid medications, which are prohibitively expensive.
Another digestive condition that has become very common is biliary colic and gallstones. It is estimated that nearly 25% of the population will at some point in their lives require treatment for gallstones. At least a million people undergo surgery every year to remove gallstones. Why gallstones have suddenly become very common remains a mystery. Most are made of cholesterol and bile salts. Worse, gallstones often mimic other abdominal symptoms like peptic ulcer disease, irritable bowel disease, and reflux. Sometime gallstones can cause blockage of the common bile duct and lead to pancreatitis. Gallstones can cause moderate to severe pain that is localized to the upper right abdomen. The pain may radiate to the back and may even be associated with nausea, vomiting, or fever. Surgery is done via a camera is now the standard treatment. One reason for the increase in gallstones is obesity. Other risk factors for gallstone include use of birth control pills and female gender.
Lactose Intolerance affects anywhere from 30-50 million Americans. These Individuals are unable to digest dairy products and develop abdominal cramps, diarrhea, bloating, and gas. The condition appears to be most common in Asians, African Americans, and Native Americans. Why people have suddenly started to develop lactose intolerance is not well understood. Often the diagnosis is delayed because the symptoms are vague. While one can replace the missing lactase enzymes, the other option is not to consume dairy products, which also severely affect lifestyle.
Diverticulitis is another very common digestive disorder, which is said to affect one out of every 4 Americans past the age of 60. It results in abnormal bulging of the colon. When these bulges get infected, it results in pain and fever. In nearly 20% of individuals, the pouch can develop an abscess or even perforate. The chief cause of diverticulosis is constipation and lack of fiber in the diet. The condition is primarily seen in people who do not eat vegetables or fruits. When diverticulitis presents, the treatment is usually with an antibiotic, hydration, and pain control. Even with treatment, recurrence of the symptoms is common. In many, people surgery is required to remove the diseased part of the colon.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome: One other disorder that has become very common over the past 3 decades is irritable bowel syndrome. This complex gastrointestinal disorder can present with alternating bouts of constipation or diarrhea. It can be precipitated by a variety of foods and beverages. There is no cure for IBS and why it occurs is not well understood.
Irritable bowel syndrome is a very complex disorder and affects many people worldwide. Even though benign, it can cause havoc in the individual’s life. While most people with IBS have alternating bouts of abdominal constipation and diarrhea, what is often not mentioned is the fecal incontinence. The reason why fecal incontinence has previously not been mentioned is most likely due to embarrassment by the patient. Hence, the exact number of people with IBS who have fecal incontinence is unknown but the numbers are not minuscule.
The amount of fecal incontinence in IBS is not severe and most people report mild soiling of their undergarments. Fecal incontinence has been reported with both the diarrhea and constipation variety of IBS. No medication works reliably for IBS and the constant abdominal cramps and pain severely affects the quality of life.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease includes both Crohn's disease and Ulcerative Colitis; these disorders affect nearly 1.4 million people. Both these conditions are life long and have no cure. They can present with abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, pain, joint symptoms, blurry vision, liver dysfunction, painful skin ulcers, and even arthritis. In the long run, there is also a risk for colon cancer. The reason why we are seeing so many cases of inflammatory bowel disease remains a mystery. Some experts feel that beside genes, smoking and a poor diet may be partially responsible. These conditions need life long treatment and despite adequate treatment of the intestinal problems, dysfunction of other organs systems is very common. These patients often need to undergo multiple surgical procedures to manage the complications and life expectancy is shortened.
Celiac Disease: One disorder which was almost unheard off 3 decades ago is now very common. Today it is estimated that nearly 1 percent of the US population suffers from celiac disease. The disorder occurs because of sensitivity to gluten which is a protein widely found in barley, rye and oats. As soon as the individual eats a diet contain gluten he or she will develop abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and vomiting. The only treatment is lifelong restriction in gluten, which means a very poor quality of life as gluten is found in 90% of foods. There is no cure for celiac disease and the disease also affect many other organs symptoms. A few patients with celiac disease go on to develop cancers of the small bowel.
Constipation: Perhaps the most common digestive problem today is constipation. The disorder affects millions of people and Americans alone spend billion of dollars each year buying laxative to unplug their bowels. The tragic thing is that while these medications do work, they eventually become ineffective. The question is why has constipation become so common? Most experts say that the most likely reason is the lack of fiber intake and consumptions of fast foods. In other cases, the cases may be disorder like diabetes, lack of adequate water, exercise and abuse of laxatives. In the majority of people with constipation the problem can be solved by eating a high fiber diet with more vegetables and whole grains. Sadly, way too many people are past that stage and have very few options to treat end stage constipation.
Despite all the advances in medicine, for the most part the exact cause of this sudden increase in digestive disorders remains a mystery. Experts however, think that the major cause is our food and changes in lifestyle. We have become a nation of fast food eaters; most of us eat very few vegetables and rely on meat and processed foods. In addition, over the years, the quality of food has become suspect. Fake and counterfeit food products are everywhere. Even foods that are grown on the farm are heavily sprayed with insecticides, pesticides, and weed killers. The water used to irrigate these foods is often contaminated. There is absolutely no quality control in the food industry. One never knows what is in the food that is being consumed. Even the animals are heavily injected with antibiotics and steroids to increase the meat output but what harm this does to humans remains unknown. There is even speculation that the genetically modified foods may be the cause, because the increase in digestive problems started at the same time as introduction of these foods in society. The bottom line is that there is no question that digestive problems have increased but until we know what is the cause, prevention is going to be problematic. In the meantime, the best advice is to eat less meat, eat more vegetables and fruits, and wash everything thoroughly.
Chronic Digestive Disorders Are On The Rise. http://www.sandpointwellnesscouncil.com/2012/06/chronic-digestive-disorders-are-on-the-rise/
Could GMOs Be Behind Your Digestive Problems? http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/could-gmos-be-behind-your-digestive-problems
America’s Digestive Problems on the Rise. http://www.morethanheartburn.com/news/americas-digestive-problems-on-the-rise