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Common Conditions

Abdominal pain

Most of the time abdominal pain is nothing serious and the severity of the pain does not indicate the seriousness of the condition.  For example, you might feel severe abdominal pain if you have gas or stomach cramps due to a viral infection.  Sometimes, life-threatening conditions such as colon cancer or early appendicitis may only cause mild pain or no pain.

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is a condition in which stomach acids rise up into the esophagus because the valve (esophageal sphincter – LES) that separates the stomach contents from the esophagus is faulty. Although we know that a faulty LES is a common, we are not sure why it becomes faulty.

The symptoms of acid reflux are:

  • Asthma
  • Chest pain
  • Dental erosion
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Heartburn
  • Hoarseness
  • Regurgitation

Bloating

Abdominal bloating is a condition in which the abdomen (belly) feels full and tight. The abdomen may be visibly swollen (distended).

Some common causes are:

  • Air swallowing (a nervous habit)
  • Constipation
  • Gastroesophageal reflux
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Lactose intolerance and other food intolerances
  • Overeating
  • Small bowel bacterial overgrowth
  • Weight gain
  • Certain medications 

Celiac disease

Celiac disease is a life-long medical condition in which the absorptive surface of the small intestine is damaged by a substance called gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Celiac disease is also known as gluten-sensitive enteropathy (GSE) or celiac sprue. When people with celiac disease, eat foods or use products containing gluten, their immune systems react against the gluten and cause damage to villi thereby reducing the surface area in the small intestine available for absorbing nutrients.

More than 110,000 Canadians are believed to be affected by celiac disease and another 220,000 suspected to have this disease.

Celiac disease can be difficult to recognize because the symptoms vary from person to person, can affect adults and children, and can occur in the digestive system or in other parts of the body. The symptoms of celiac disease may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Oily, fatty or frothy stools
  • Inability to gain weight
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain

Many adults with celiac disease do not suffer from “classic” symptoms but you may experience anemia, unexplained fatigue, mouth cancers, arthritis or joint pain, osteoporosis, missed periods, recurrent miscarriages, or depression. About 10% of people living with celiac disease also have dermatitis herpetiformis. This is an intensely itchy, burning skin rash that is usually found on the elbows, knees and buttocks. It appears as groups of small blisters that erupt and form small red lesions.

Although some people live with the disease for decades before being diagnosed, getting diagnosed as soon as possible is critical. The longer a person goes undiagnosed and untreated, the greater the chance he or she has of developing long-term complications such as malnutrition, liver diseases, and cancers of the intestine.

Constipation

Constipation is a condition of infrequent or uncomfortable bowel movements. It is a common disorder that is often described as the passage of small, hard stools; the feeling that the rectum has not been completely emptied; or, straining during defecation.

Diarrhea

People suffering from diarrhea experience frequent, loose, watery stools.  This disorder can affect people of all ages but is particularly worrisome in the young and old because of the threat of dehydration, which may result in the body being unable to function properly. Acute diarrhea is caused by bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections, food intolerance, reactions to medicine and generally lasts a short time. Chronic diarrhea is usually related to other digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease may last for the duration of the illness.

Fatty liver

A fatty liver is the result of the accumulation of excess fat in liver cells. Fatty tissue slowly builds up in the liver when a person’s diet exceeds the amount of fat his or her body can handle. A person has a fatty liver when fat makes up at least 5-10% of the liver. Simple fatty liver can be a completely benign condition and usually does not lead to liver damage. However, once there is a buildup of simple fat, the liver becomes vulnerable to further injury, which may result in inflammation and scarring of the liver.

In general, people with fatty liver disease have no symptoms. However, some people report discomfort in the abdomen at the level of the liver, fatigue, a general feeling of being unwell and vague discomfort.  

Heartburn

Heartburn is a burning sensation in your chest, just behind your breastbone. Heartburn pain is often worse when lying down or bending over.

Occasional heartburn is common and no cause for alarm. Most people can manage the discomfort of heartburn on their own with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications.

More frequent heartburn that interferes with your daily routine may be a symptom of something more serious that requires help from a doctor.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease – Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease

Ulcerative colitis falls under Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is at least two, separate disorders that cause inflammation (redness and swelling) and ulceration (sores) of the small and large intestines. These two disorders are called ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Ulcerative colitis causes ulceration and inflammation of the lining of the large bowel only, beginning at the rectum (proctitis) and extending upwards varying distances.

The symptoms of (IBD) may include:

  • Aching, sore joints, skin and mouth sores and red, inflamed eyes
  • Rectal bleeding, weight loss and fever
  • Children may suffer poor growth
  • The most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease are abdominal pain (often in the right, lower area of the abdomen) and diarrhea

Malnutrition and blood disorders are common conditions in IBD patients found to be caused by avoiding food items either because of existing symptoms or concern that they may bring on symptoms. Almost half of IBD patients have additional health issues affecting their joints, skin, eyes, and biliary tract that may be more debilitating than the bowel symptoms.

Indigestion

Indigestion is often a sign of an underlying problem, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), ulcers, or gallbladder disease.  Also called dyspepsia, indigestion is a term used to describe a feeling of fullness during or after a meal. It at times is accompanied by burning or pain in the upper stomach. 

Iron deficiency anemia

A common type of anemia, iron deficiency anemia — is a condition in which blood lacks adequate healthy red blood cells, the blood cells that carry oxygen to the body’s tissues.

Iron deficiency anemia is due to insufficient iron. When you are low on iron you body can’t produce enough of a substance in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen (hemoglobin).

Iron supplements can help correct iron deficiency anemia.  Sometimes additional tests or treatments for iron deficiency anemia are necessary, especially if your doctor suspects that you’re bleeding internally. 

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a common chronic gastrointestinal disorder that involves problems with motility (how the bowel moves contents through our intestines) and sensitivity (how the brain interprets sensations in the bowel). Those affected by IBS may experience recurrent abdominal pain and irregular bowel patterns that are often painful.  Symptoms are often chronic and intermittent and may last for months or years.

Canada has one of the highest rates of IBS in the world with five million Canadians currently suffering. IBS affects significantly more women than men and is one of the most common causes for work and school absenteeism.

The symptoms people living with IBS experience vary from person to person but may include:

  • Gas, bloating, cramps, abdominal pain related to bowel movements
  • Irregular bowel patterns
  • Diarrhea or constipation or alternating between both
  • Mucus present around or within the stools
  • Heartburn, nausea