Tummy Troubles? Digest These Facts

The commercials for over-the-counter pills to combat acid reflux seem ubiquitous. And that’s a good thing.

More people are getting the message that sometimes occasional heartburn could become a condition that needs to be checked out and treated, with acid reflux, or GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease)  being the most common.

“The pharmaceuticals pay for advertising to sell more medication, but the byproduct has been more awareness of the problem,” said Dr. Michael Sternthal, M.D., a gastroenterologist at the Baptist Endoscopy Center at Coral Springs, where patients can undergo an endoscopy or colonoscopy.

Studies have shown that heartburn and other symptoms of acid reflux seem to be much more common than they were a decade or more ago.

Over-the-counter medications — primarily “proton pump inhibitors” that block acid production, such as Prilosec and Prevacid — are heavily promoted on TV and line the shelves of drugstores to treat GERD, a digestive disorder in which acid produced by the stomach refluxes back into the esophagus and can cause damage to the esophagus and structures in the throat.

GERD can be treated with these widely available medications, but mild cases may also respond to lifestyle changes that include a healthier diet and exercise for weight management.  Medications taken for other conditions could be a cause of GERD.

The nation’s obesity problem has also helped fuel the prevalence of gastrointestinal disorders, Dr. Sternthal said.

About a third of the patients to the Baptist Endoscopy Center at Coral Springs go there for routine screenings, a percentage which has grown as the importance of colonoscopies after the age of 50 has become widely known.

“People come here for colon cancer screening, but we interview them with regard to other possible gastrointestinal diseases as well, particularly heartburn,” Dr. Sternthal said. “You should see a doctor if you have regular heartburn, trouble swallowing, a family history of esophageal cancer or  unexplained weight loss.”

Acid reflux is just one gastrointestinal condition that has become more widely diagnosed  and evaluated as more people undergo for screenings.

Here’s an overview of some gastrointestinal disorders, which may include GERD has a symptom.

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is fairly common in both men and women, although generally more in women. The condition affects up to an estimated 55 million Americans.

In IBS, there is no inflammation in the intestines, but people still experience symptoms.  This is thought to be due to “hypersensitivity” of the bowel or intestines and abnormalities in motility (the way food is moved through the intestinal tract). The most common IBS symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal cramps.

There are IBS treatments such as diet and lifestyle changes and medications that can help. It’s not life-threatening, but irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be painful and disrupt your life.

Barrett’s Esophagus
More common among middle-aged men, Barrett’s Esophagus is a condition in which the cells of your lower esophagus become damaged, usually from long-term exposure to stomach acid.    A small percentage of people with GERD will develop Barrett’s esophagus. But a diagnosis of Barrett’s can be concerning because it increases the risk of developing esophageal cancer.

Hiatal Hernia
A hiatal hernia is when a portion of your stomach (which produces acid) slides up into your chest. People with a sizable hiatal hernia often get significant acid reflux. An upper endoscopy uses a thin flexible scope with a camera, which is inserted into a person’s mouth after sedation to allow visualization and biopsy of the esophagus or stomach. This allows your gastroenterologist to check for causes of GERD, such as a significant hiatal hernia, as well as complications from long term acid reflux such as Barrett’s esophagus.

Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis — are two types of inflammatory bowel disease and are thought to be autoimmune diseases.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is more serious than irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as there is true inflammation and ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract.

Crohn’s most commonly affects the end of the small bowel (the ileum) and the beginning of the colon, but it may affect any part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, from the mouth to the anus. Symptoms include abdominal pain, severe diarrhea and even malnutrition. Inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease can involve different areas of the digestive tract in different people.

Ulcerative Colitis
Ulcerative colitis is limited to the colon, also called the large intestine.  It can also be debilitating and can sometimes require removal of the colon to cure it.   Like Crohn’s disease, it can be treated and therapies can greatly reduce symptoms and bring about long-term remission.

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With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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