Learning about common digestive issues can help you recognize when one may affect you or someone you know.
Heartburn and Acid Reflux
Heartburn—a slight burning sensation in the chest or throat— is typically a symptom of acid reflux, which occurs when stomach acid leaves the stomach and enters the esophagus.
Acid reflux can be occasional or chronic. The more severe and chronic cases are classified as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD. Untreated, GERD can lead to complications. Causes of acid reflux can vary from stomach abnormalities and pregnancy to lifestyle choices, such as eating certain foods and medications, smoking, overeating, eating late at night and being overweight.
Peptic ulcers are open sores that develop in the lining of the esophagus, stomach and the upper portion of the small intestine. It was once believed that these ulcers were the result of eating spicy foods or were caused by stress. These have been shown to be myths. Doctors now know that bacterial infections and the use of some medications cause ulcers. The bacterium Helicobacter pylori is one of the most common causes of ulcers. It can inhabit the mucus layer that lines and protects the stomach. When bacteria levels get out of balance, H. pylori can multiply and disrupt the mucus layer, producing an ulcer. H. pylori and bacterial outbreaks in the stomach can also lead to gastritis, an inflammation and eroding of the stomach lining.
Constipation and Diarrhea
In the United States, constipation accounts for 2.5 million doctor visits and an estimated $400 million in laxative sales every year. This occurs when stools become difficult to pass, and is officially defined as when bowel movement frequency drops to less than three per week.
Constipation can be the result of poor diet, stress and certain medications.
On the other end of the spectrum, diarrhea is marked by frequent loose, watery stools. Unchecked it can quickly lead to dehydration. Both constipation and diarrhea can be caused by medications, foods and bacterial infections.
Both constipation and diarrhea can indicate more serious digestive issues, such as Crohn’s and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Probiotics and GI Health
At birth, the gastrointestinal tract is sterile. Eventually, it is colonized by 500–1,000 types of bacteria known as friendly flora. These serve a number of functions in the body:
• synthesize amino acids, vitamins and short-chain fatty acids
• break down natural sugars
• boost overall digestive enzyme power
• regulate immune function
• protect the body against pathogenic bacteria that cause illness and disease
• regulate energy production
• help repair cell damage
• assist in the absorption of nutrients
Common Heartburn Triggers
Certain foods and beverages trigger acid reflux and heartburn:
• Carbonated beverages
• Coffee (regular and decaf) and caffeinated drinks
• Fatty and fried foods
• Black pepper, garlic, raw onions, and other spicy foods
• Citrus fruits