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Digestive Disorders

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An Introduction

IVSAT 2024

The human digestive system is an essential part of our bodies. It helps us to assimilate and absorb various nutrients in our bodies. The food that we eat needs to be broken down and then assimilated by our bodies. The digestive system performs this job perfectly well. Therefore it helps us to keep healthy and grow optimally. Hence, a healthy digestive system is essential for our gut health and consequently the overall well being of our bodies. However, many people suffer from varying digestive disorders that can make normal functioning of the body a difficult task. 


In this article, we will have a brief look at a few digestive disorders and simple ways to prevent them and maintain gut health. Refer to the official website of Vedantu or download the app for further details.


What is a Digestive Disorder?

Any disorder which correlates to the digestive system or tract can be termed a digestive disorder. 


Digestive disorders are very common in people. Our digestive tract comes in contact with several microbes and foreign materials. The organs of the digestive system are very critically organised to produce enzymes and digest all the complex food that is ingested. More or less all people suffer from digestive comfort once in a while. Below mentioned are some disorders of the digestive system.


Common Causes of Digestive Disorders

Although specific digestive diseases may have various specific causes, there are a few common causes that can lead to poor health of the digestive system leading to varying disorders. These include the following:

  • Poor nutrition intake: the most common cause of digestive disorders can be attributed to a poor diet. A poor diet is one where important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, probiotics, etc do not form part of a person's regular diet. A diet low in fibre can also be a cause of chronic constipation. 

  • Overeating: on one hand eating very little causes malnutrition, on the other and diet rich in fats and dairy can also cause varying problems in the digestive tract.

  • Unhygienic food: this is another common cause of stomach diseases. Eating food that has been sitting out for too long or has been prepared in unhygienic conditions can be extremely dangerous for one's health.

  • Not exercising: a sedentary lifestyle and poor meal choices are other common causes of digestive disorders.

  • Not drinking enough water: water is an essential element in maintaining a healthy digestive tract. Not having enough water regularly can cause problems like bloating and constipation.

  • Medicines: certain medications like iron supplements, antidepressants etc can interfere with the proper functioning of the digestive system. Also, overusing antacids, laxatives, etc can cause the loosening of the abdominal muscles and thus interfere with normal bowel functions. 


Commonly Known Digestive Disorders

Following are some of the commonly known diseases of the digestive system: 

1. GERD: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn. People may naturally suffer from heartburn once in a while due to ingestion of certain food. However if one experiences heartburn way too often then he or she may be suffering from GERD. A doctor can diagnose and therefore identify GERD through reading the symptoms displayed by the patient. However, to estimate the extent of damage caused to the esophageal tract, specific diagnostic testing is quite necessary.


The most common effect of GERD is heartburn. However prolonged and uncontrolled GERD can cause erosion of the lining of the esophageal tract. It may even lead to bleeding in the esophageal tract. This condition can often cause a great amount of pain in the chest region and is often mistaken for a heart attack.


One can control GERD by initiating simple lifestyle changes. Over the counter (OTC) medicines can also help deal with GERD if it is for a short time. However, for chronic or serious GERD, prescription medicine with or without surgery is required.


2. Chronic Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is most commonly characterized by loose, watery stool. It is one of the most common digestive disorders although experts consider it normal to have occasional urgency. However, uncontrollable urgency where one is unable to control the exit of watery, loose stool for an extended period of time can be a cause for concern.


Diarrhoea itself is a disorder but it is often also displayed as a symptom of other disorders or diseases as well. Diarrhoea is difficult to treat. This is because it can have a number of possible causes. Diarrhoea could happen because of the body's inability to absorb food, for example, celiac disease. Another probable reason can be other diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Even infections of any sort in the digestive tract can trigger diarrhoea too.


Apart from the physical discomfort that is brought about due to diarrhoea, chronic diarrhoea can also be considered as an indication of a problem that is much more serious. This may need medical intervention and the patient must be evaluated by a medical professional.


3. Chronic Constipation

Constipation is the inability to pass stool. This may include passing out stool with considerable effort.


As a rule of thumb, constipation is often defined as having fewer than three bowel movements in a week. This may last for three weeks or more. In case the stool is hard it becomes harder to pass and is still called constipation.


Just like diarrhoea, to find the exact cause of chronic constipation can be hard to determine.


Generally, treatment of the condition initially can begin with easily available remedies like stool softener and fibre supplements. An important cause of constipation is a lack of adequate water intake. Thus adding more fluids to one's diet can also help curb constipation. If all the above fails, one must consult a physician. One may be recommended some exercises to strengthen the muscles that help in the movement of muscles that are concerned with the peristaltic movement that aids passing stool.


4. Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is a condition in which the parts of the gastrointestinal tract become inflamed. Gastroenteritis is expressed with symptoms like fever, nausea, diarrhoea and even headaches. All its symptoms are more or less the same as that of the flu, therefore gastroenteritis is commonly known as stomach flu.


Just like the flu, gastroenteritis is also caused by an infection in the gut. The infection may either be of viral or bacterial origin. Bacterial infections can be caused by a number of bacteria, the most common of which are E. coli and Salmonella. Viral infections can be caused by rotavirus (mostly affecting unvaccinated children), norovirus (also infamous as the scourge of cruise ships). Certain parasites are also capable of causing gastroenteritis.


If the symptoms persist even after a few days, the best advice would be to drink adequate fluids, especially water to stay hydrated and avoid dehydration. 


Gastroenteritis can be easily prevented by following good hand hygiene practices. Also having separate bathroom facilities for infected patients can help in preventing the spread of the disease. 


If the symptoms last for more than a few days further testing must be done. If the test results come back positive for antibodies, then it would indicate an allergy or infection. Antibodies in stool can also help in more effective treatment.


5. Ulcers

Ulcers are fluid-filled blisters that are formed on various organs. A peptic ulcer is an ulcer formed on the walls of the stomach.


Earlier peptic ulcers were attributed to lifestyle factors like stress or diet but recent research shows that peptic ulcers are more likely to be caused by either bacterial infections or by heavy use of over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen.


Both the bacteria as well as the NSAIDs have the capability to destroy the inner lining of the stomach. It damages the mucus covering the inner linings of the stomach. This exposes the interior of the stomach to the very strong Hydrochloric acid that is secreted by specialized cells in the stomach. This is essentially comparable to a sore in the inside of the stomach. Ulcers can be very hard to resolve because of the constant exposure of the exposed area to the continuous secretion of stomach acid.


A physician can perform various tests to diagnose the presence and cause of the peptic ulcer. If the ulcer was caused due to an infection by microbes, the patient will be prescribed antibiotics for the treatment. Along with this, a proton pump inhibitor is prescribed. This helps in reducing acid secretion from the specialised cells. If not treated the ulcers can cause immense pain, this can also cause bleeding which may lead to anaemia.


Preventing Digestive Disorders

Digestive Disorders are very common and can be easily preventable. A few cautious steps will not only help in preventing digestive disorders but also help in improving one's overall functioning of the digestive system leading to improved gut health. These include:

  • Eating a well-balanced diet: make sure that you eat a nutrient-rich diet that includes a proper balance of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and fibre. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and getting enough sleep will do wonders for your overall gut functioning.

  • Drinking enough water: make sure that you drink enough water daily.

  • Exercising regularly: exercising regularly whilst having a well-balanced diet is the most ideal way of maintaining a digestive system that works at the optimum level.

  • Maintaining good hygiene: only eat food that is cooked in proper sanitary conditions. 

  • Answering calls of nature: do not stop the urge to have a bowel movement. Ideally one should release their bowels when they get a natural urge to do so. Not going to the bathroom when the body urges can cause chronic constipation in the long run.

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FAQs on Digestive Disorders

1. What are Haemorrhoids?

Hemorrhoids are a disorder of the digestive tract which affects approximately three-quarters of individuals of the group of 45 and more. Haemorrhoids are manifested by swollen rectal veins which cause discomfort during the process of passing stool. There can be several causes for these small, swollen rectal veins, from straining during bowel movements, family history, or just from spending too much time sitting on the toilet. This can resemble chronic constipation. During pregnancy, these become very common.

Haemorrhoids have the following symptoms:

  • It causes pain or itching around the anus.

  • Patients may notice a hard knot near their anus.

  • Some even bright red blood in the toilet bowl.

2. How to treat Haemorrhoids?

The best ways to prevent the outbreak of digestive Disorders are:

  • Consuming healthy and clean food.

  • Having healthy hand hygiene.

  • Having proper bathroom etiquettes 

  • Keeping food covered.

  • Not eating undercooked food.

  • Consuming clean water.

  • Eating fresh food.

However, if one still gets haemorrhoids, they must see a doctor. The doctor will usually recommend a treatment consisting of diet modifications and laxatives. Medications will also be provided by the health experts. Haemorrhoids patients must also care for themselves by going on a high-fibre diet, using ice packs or cold compresses. Refer to the official website of Vedantu or download the app for an elaborate and comprehensive explanation.

3. Name some digestible diseases caused by microbes.

Some digestive diseases caused by microbes are:

  • Cholera: caused by Vibrio cholerae

  • Typhoid: caused by Salmonella typhii.

  • Travellers’ diarrhoea caused by strains of E. coli.

Many other digestive disorders can also be attributed to microbes including bacterial gastroenteritis, staphylococcal food poisoning, non-cholera vibrios, etc. However, these diseases can be easily prevented by ensuring that the food is prepared in sanitary conditions, avoiding raw food, and eating only fresh and hygienic food. One must understand that health and hygiene have an important relationship with each other.

4. Can diet be used to treat digestive disorders?

Yes, diets can play an essential role in treating digestive disorders and also maintaining their proper functioning. As we have already seen that a common cause of many digestive diseases is poor eating habits and low nutritional intake. By including foods of high nutritional value and fibre, one can aid the digestive system in its optimum functioning. Although many digestive diseases can be controlled by maintaining a good diet, certain disorders may have genetic causes. Also, one must go to a doctor when even a healthy diet does not seem to help.

5. What is celiac disease? 

Celiac disease is a common reality for many people around the world. It is a condition in which the digestive system is unable to digest a protein called gluten. Gluten is usually found in carbohydrates like wheat, barley, brewer's yeats etc. unfortunately, celiac disease does not have a cure. People with celiac disease can only prevent its symptoms by maintaining a healthy diet and avoiding foods that contain gluten.

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