The digestive system is largely in charge of providing the body with the essential nutrients needed for all the other systems of the body to function effectively. But, what happens when your digestive health is less than optimal and your overall wellness is affected? Gastrointestinal diseases can wreak havoc on the structure and function of the digestive system, altering its effectiveness when providing the body with essential nutrients, as well as that of other important processes in the human body.
What are Functional Gastrointestinal Diseases?
Functional gastrointestinal diseases are those in which the gastrointestinal tract, or GI tract, appear normal but may actually not be functioning properly. They are the most common issues which affect the gastrointestinal tract, including the colon and the rectum. Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, and constipation are two of the most commonly reported examples of functional GI diseases. Many factors may affect the gastrointestinal tract’s function, primarily when it involves its motility, or the ability to keep “things” moving, such as:
- Eating an improper diet that is also low in fiber,
- Not participating in enough physical activity or exercise,
- Changes in your daily routine due to traveling,
- Eating large quantities of dairy products,
- Resisting the urge to go to the bathroom,
- Resisting the urge to go to the bathroom due to pain from hemorrhoids
- Overdoing it on the use of laxatives, or stool softeners, which weaken bowel muscles,
- Taking antacid medicines, which calcium or aluminum,
- Using certain drugs and/or medications, especially antidepressants, iron pills, and strong pain medicines such as narcotics,
- And pregnancy.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS
Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as spastic colon, irritable colon, or nervous stomach, is a gastrointestinal disease in which the colon muscle contracts more frequently than in people without IBS. Certain foods, drugs and medications, and even emotional stress have been identified to be some of the most prevalent aspects which can trigger irritable bowel syndrome and its symptoms. Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, include:
- Abdominal pain and cramps,
- Excessive gas,
- Changes in bowel movement habits, such as harder, looser, or more urgent stools than normal,
- And alternating constipation and diarrhea.
Treatment methods for irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS include:
- Avoiding the consumption of caffeine or caffeinated products,
- Adding more fiber intake to your diet,
- Monitoring which foods trigger your IBS and taking action to avoid eating these foods,
- Decreasing stress levels by learning different ways to cope with the stress,
- And occasionally taking drugs and medications as prescribed by a healthcare professional.
Constipation is a common gastrointestinal disease, described as the inability or struggle to have a regular bowel movement, or move stools, where they’re infrequent, about less than three times a week, or incomplete. Constipation is usually brought on by insufficient fiber in the diet, or due to a disruption in your normal diet or daily routine. Constipation can cause a person to strain during a bowel movement. It may create small, hard stools and can sometimes lead to anal issues, such as hemorrhoids and fissures. Constipation is seldom a sign of a more serious digestive health issue. People with constipation can treat the problem by:
- Increasing fiber intake to your diet,
- Engaging in regular physical activity or exercise,
- And by going to the bathroom promptly when you feel the urge to go, as resisting the urge is believed to cause constipation.
If these treatment methods are not enough, laxatives can be used but only as a temporary alternative. Be aware that the overuse of laxatives can eventually worsen constipation symptoms. Always follow the advice of your healthcare professional or follow the directions on the laxative medicine, accordingly.
What are Structural Gastrointestinal Diseases?
Structural gastrointestinal diseases are those in which the bowels themselves look abnormal while also not functioning properly. Occasionally, the structural abnormality may need to be surgically removed to relieve the digestive health issue. Commonly reported examples of structural gastrointestinal diseases, include hemorrhoids, diverticular disease, colon polyps, colon cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Hemorrhoids can be characterized as the swollen blood vessels that line the anal opening. They are brought on by chronic, excessive pressure from straining during a bowel movement, persistent diarrhea or even pregnancy. There are two types of hemorrhoids: internal and external.
Internal hemorrhoids are blood vessels on the interior of the anal opening. When they fall down into the anus as a result of straining, they can become irritated and start to bleed. Ultimately, internal hemorrhoids can fall down enough to prolapse, or sink and/or stick, out from the anus.
Treatment methods for internal hemorrhoids include:
- Improving bowel movement habits, such as avoiding constipation, not straining during bowel movements and going to the bathroom when you have the urge to go,
- Having your doctor use elastic bands to remove the blood vessels,
- And, having a healthcare professional surgically remove them. Surgical interventions are generally only utilized for patients with painfully large and persistent hemorrhoids.
External hemorrhoids are veins that lie just underneath the skin on the outside of the anus. Occasionally, after straining, the external hemorrhoidal veins can burst, forming a blood clot under the skin. This very painful condition is medically referred to as a pile.
Treatment methods for external hemorrhoids include removing the clot and vein under local anesthesia and/or removing the hemorrhoid itself.
Anal fissures are splits or cracks which occur in the lining of the anal opening. The most common cause of an anal fissure is the passing of very hard or watery stools. The crack in the anal lining exposes the muscles which control the passage of stool through the anus and out of the body. An anal fissure is considered to be one of the most painful gastrointestinal diseases, or disorders, because the vulnerable muscles can become irritated from exposure to feces, or stool, and/or air, and may lead to intense burning pain, bleeding, or spasm after bowel movements.
Initial treatment methods for anal fissures includes pain drugs/medications, the addition of dietary fiber to reduce the incidence of large, bulky stools, and sitz baths, where the individual sits in a few inches of warm water. If these treatments do not relieve the painful symptoms, surgery may be required to repair the sphincter muscle.
Perianal abscesses can occur when the tiny anal glands that open on the interior of the anus become obstructed, and the bacteria always present in these glands trigger an infection. When pus develops, it can create the perianal abscess.
Treatment involves draining the abscess, usually under local anesthesia by a qualified and experienced healthcare professional.
An anal fistula often follows drainage of an abscess and can be an unnatural tube-like passageway in the anal canal to a hole in the skin near the opening of the anus. Body wastes traveling through the anal canal are redirected through this tiny channel and out through the skin, causing itching and irritation. Anal fistulas also bring about drainage, pain, and bleeding. They rarely heal by themselves and usually require surgery to drain the abscess and “close off” the fistula.
Other Perianal Infections
Occasionally, the skin glands near the anus become infected and may need to be drained. Just behind the anus, abscesses can form that contain a little tuft of hair at the back of the pelvis, known as a pilonidal cyst. Sexually transmitted diseases which could affect the anus include anal warts, herpes, AIDS, chlamydia, and gonorrhea.
Diverticulosis is the presence of small outpouchings, known as the diverticula, in the muscular wall of the large intestine which form in weakened areas of the gastrointestinal tract, or GI tract. They usually develop in the sigmoid colon, the high-pressure area of the lower large intestine. Diverticular disease is relatively common and can occur in approximately 10 percent of people over the age of 40 and in 50 percent of people over the age of 60 in Western cultures. It’s frequently caused by too little amounts of fiber in the diet. Diverticulosis rarely causes symptoms.
Complications of diverticular disease happen in about 10 percent of people with outpouchings. They include inflammation or infection (diverticulitis), bleeding, and obstruction. Treatment methods for diverticulitis includes antibiotics, increased fluids, along with a specialized diet. Surgical interventions are needed in about half of the patients who have complications to eliminate the involved segment of colon.
Colon Polyps and Cancer
About 130,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year, making it the second most common type of cancer in the United States. Fortunately, with medical advances in early detection and treatment method therapies, colorectal cancer is one of the most curable forms of the disease. By utilizing a variety of screening tests, it is possible to prevent, detect, and treat the disease before symptoms begin to appear.
The Value of Screening
Virtually all colorectal cancers begin as polyps, benign, or non-cancerous, growths in the tissues lining the colon and rectum. Cancer develops when these polyps grow and abnormal cells develop and start to invade surrounding tissues. Removal of polyps can prevent the development of colorectal cancer. Almost all precancerous polyps may be removed painlessly using a flexible, lighted tube called a colonoscope. If not caught in the early stages, colorectal cancer can spread throughout your system. More advanced cancer requires more complex surgical procedures. Most early forms of colorectal cancer do not cause symptoms, making screening an essential part of its diagnosis. When symptoms do occur, the cancer might already be very advanced. Symptoms include, blood mixed in with the stool, a change in normal bowel movement habits, narrowing of the stool, abdominal pain, weight loss, or constant tiredness.
Most cases of colorectal cancer are detected in one of four ways:
- By screening people at average risk for colorectal cancer beginning at age 50,
- By screening people at higher risk for colorectal cancer, for example, those with a family history or a personal history of colon polyps or cancer,
- By investigating the bowel in patients with symptoms,
- And through a chance finding at a routine, doctor’s check-up.
Early detection is your best opportunity for a cure.
There are several types of colitis, gastrointestinal diseases which can cause an inflammation of the gut. The different types of colitis include:
- Infectious colitis,
- Ulcerative colitis, where the cause is unknown,
- Crohn’s disease, where the cause is unknown,
- Ischemic colitis, caused when not enough blood is going to the colon,
- And radiation colitis, caused after radiotherapy.
Colitis causes diarrhea, rectal bleeding, abdominal cramps, and urgency, or frequent and immediate need to empty the bowels. Treatment methods for colitis depend on the diagnosis, which is made after a colonoscopy and biopsy.
Can Gastrointestinal Diseases be Avoided?
Many gastrointestinal diseases, or GI diseases, can be prevented or their risk can reduced by managing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, such as a proper nutrition, exercise, and hydration, among other lifestyle modifications, by practicing good bowel movement habits, and submitting to cancer screening. Colonoscopy is recommended for average risk patients at age 50. When you have a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, colonoscopy may be recommended at a younger age. Normally, colonoscopy is recommended 10 years younger than the affected relative. For instance, if your brother has been diagnosed with colorectal cancer or polyps at age 45, you should begin screening at age 35. In case you have symptoms of colorectal cancer you should speak to your doctor right away. Common symptoms include:
- A change in normal bowel movement habits,
- Blood on or in the stool which is either bright or dark,
- Unusual abdominal or gas pains,
- Very narrow stool,
- A feeling that the bowel has not emptied completely after passing stool,
- Unexplained weight loss,
- And fatigue.
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By Dr. Alex Jimenez
Additional Topics: Wellness
Overall health and wellness are essential towards maintaining the proper mental and physical balance in the body. From eating a balanced nutrition as well as exercising and participating in physical activities, to sleeping a healthy amount of time on a regular basis, following the best health and wellness tips can ultimately help maintain overall well-being. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can go a long way towards helping people become healthy.
TRENDING TOPIC: EXTRA EXTRA: How to Become a Healthier You!
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