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Digestive disorders can have a variety of causes and symptoms, but they all bring discomfort and stress that most people would rather live without. From what are the most common digestive disorders such as heartburn brought on by indigestion to more chronic conditions such as inflammatory bowel disorder (IBS) and ulcerative colitis that may have hereditary causes, digestive disorders can take a toll on your well-being and dominate your life. Without proper treatment of these conditions, these digestive disorders can become overwhelming.
At Aligned Modern Health, we use Functional Medicine to address the underlying cause of your digestive issues. By finding the root cause of your symptoms, Functional Medicine can help restore full function to your digestive system, which is the cornerstone of good health.
What Is a Digestive Disorder?
Although the effects of digestive disorders can vary depending on the condition, the most common digestive disorder symptoms include pain and discomfort in the digestive tract. These can range from pain in the esophagus to diarrhea or constipation. Other conditions may result in symptoms outside of the digestive system, such as chronic fatigue, malnutrition, and weight loss. Even though many of these conditions may be chronic and need to be managed long-term, there are a variety of digestive disorder treatment options that can improve patients’ quality of life and help them manage their conditions effectively.
Types of Digestive Disorders
What are the most common digestive disorders? Many of the most common forms of digestive disorders are re-occurring conditions that fortunately can be managed by medications and/or lifestyle changes. In some cases, simply changing your diet and avoiding certain types of foods can be enough to manage one of these conditions effectively. Here are some of the most common forms of digestive disorders:
- Heartburn/GERD: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) occurs when the muscles between the esophagus and the stomach are weak, allowing the contents of the stomach to flow into the esophagus. In minor cases, the result is heartburn. In more serious cases, such as the condition known as Barrett’s esophagus, GERD may put people at higher risk of developing esophageal cancer.
- Crohn’s disease: A form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of the digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, diarrhea, and other digestive difficulties. Symptoms of Crohn’s disease may go into remission for extended periods of time before re-occurring.
- Ulcerative colitis: This digestive disorder is characterized by sores opening inside the colon. This leads to symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, and anemia.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): Unlike Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) does not cause changes in the tissue of your digestive system, and can be managed with relative ease. This condition is characterized by changes in the normal contractions of the intestinal tract, resulting in bloating/diarrhea when they contract too strongly and constipation when they contract too weakly.
- Celiac disease: This condition is characterized by an inability to properly digest gluten, a type of protein found in certain grains such as wheat and barley. When consumed, gluten can trigger an abnormal immune response within the digestive system that can lead to vomiting, cramping, bloating and changes in bowel movements. Symptoms can range from mild to severe but can lead to more serious complications, if not addressed.
- Appendicitis: The appendix is a tube of tissue that extends from the large intestine — when it becomes inflamed, it eventually bursts. This leads to infectious materials being released into the abdominal cavity, which can lead to a potentially fatal infection. This condition requires surgery immediately to remove the appendix.
Causes and Risk Factors for Digestive Disorders
In most cases, the most significant risk factor for digestive disorders is family history. People with a family history of digestive disorders such as IBS or Crohn’s disease often have a higher risk of developing the disorders themselves. Other common risk factors for many types of digestive disorders include smoking and the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Diets that are high in fat or refined foods are another significant risk factor.
Because many digestive disorders involve the immune system attacking tissues within the digestive system, it’s believed that certain types of viruses or bacteria may trigger these conditions. This may be caused by an abnormal response of the immune system to fighting an infection. However, it remains unknown at this time how strong this connection may be.
Diagnosing Digestive Disorders
Doctors may be able to diagnose a digestive disorder simply by talking to a patient about his or her digestive disorder symptoms. In other cases, however, the doctor may want to conduct other types of tests. These may include the use of an endoscope to look inside the digestive tract for signs of disease. A doctor also may call for a biopsy of tissue from inside the digestive tract. Blood or stool samples may provide some insight into the exact nature of the condition, as well.
Treating Digestive Disorders
Digestive disorder treatments can range from relatively simple changes in lifestyle to surgery, depending on the type of disorder and its severity. Although not every approach can address all issues associated with all conditions, they can provide some relief, in most cases. Here are some digestive disorder treatments that can help patients relieve their symptoms:
- Functional medicine: Working with a Functional Medicine doctor can offer relief and a cure from your digestive complaints. Functional Medicine acknowledges that your symptoms, displayed through digestive disorder, can affect the whole body. With a personalized approach and after thorough assessment, Functional Medicine will seek to understand and remove the triggers that are negatively impacting your digestive environment. This may involve removing problematic foods, infections, parasites, yeast, and bad bacteria. Functional Medicine testing will seek out and help to replace what your body needs for proper digestion and to foster an environment for healthy bacteria, which is a critical component for reinstating a digestive health. By focusing on the cause and the cure instead of just masking the symptoms, Functional Medicine offers the added benefit of being a natural treatment that can complement your current treatment plan with fewer side effects.
- Medication: In some cases, anti-inflammatory drugs can help control the occurrence of symptoms for many forms of digestive disorders. Treating these conditions with drugs introduces the risk of side effects, however.
- Surgery: Certain forms of digestive disorders may require surgery to remove damaged portions of the digestive tract, although this is not always an option for many forms of the digestive disease.
- Acupuncture: The use of traditional acupuncture may provide some relief from digestive disorder symptoms such as abdominal pain, although it cannot treat all symptoms.
If you or someone you know is suffering from a digestive disorder or related symptoms, continue to schedule an appointment or free consultation with a Functional Medicine professional to get to the root cause of your concerns and restore function.
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