Temporary upsets in digestive function often result from a little over indulgence, a trip abroad, or a passing bug. When symptoms last beyond a couple of days, or are severe, you should take notice.
The same applies to sudden change. Everyone’s bowel habits are different but tend to be consistent so a change in bowel habit should prompt a consultation. New onset of indigestion or belching may be a sign of gastro-oesophageal reflux. A little bright blood on toilet paper, or stools is not unusual but as with blood mixed in the stools, should be investigated.
New onset of gastrointestinal symptoms, or a different reaction to food and drink, can be harmless or nature’s way of warning us. A range of conditions of the digestive tract is highlighted here.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common digestive condition, affecting up to to 20% of people, across a wide age range. It is a disorder of gut function rather than anything structural. Symptoms may include pain, bloating, or a change of bowel habit, either towards diarrhoea or constipation.
Although a functional disorder and not dangerous in itself, IBS can be truly distressing and have a significant psychological impact. More details on IBS can be found here:
Irritable Bowel Syndrome ➤
Colitis means an inflamed colon and can be caused several factors, such as an infection and even some drugs. Ulcerative colitis (UC) affects about 250,000 people in the UK, including people of almost all age groups, and involves an inflammation of the lining of the bowel – the cause is not known. The commonest symptom is blood mixed with the stool but sometimes the inflammation involves only the lower part of the colon, which can just cause bleeding.
Symptoms can extend to other areas of the body; these might include mouth ulcers, reddened skin, or eyes, swollen joints, along with physical weakness and tiredness.
This condition can be debilitating and can involve long term damage to the colon, which is usually controllable. More information is available here:
Ulcerative Colitis Treatment ➤
Crohn’s disease is named after the American Gastroenterologist who described the condition in the 1930’s. This affects about 150,000 people in the UK, across a wide age range and can affect any part of the digestive tract, from top to bottom. Diarrhoea, bleeding, abdominal pain and nausea are common symptoms, sometimes associated with weight loss, discomfort around the anal (bottom) area and general tiredness, or ill health. There is a familial association, which implies a genetic predisposition.
Stopping smoking and dietary changes can help in controlling Crohns, along with regular check ups and suitable medication. Further details are available here:
Managing Crohn’s Disease ➤
Food Intolerance and Coeliac disease
Food intolerance is an unpleasant reaction to certain foods, often (but not always) within a few hours of consumption. Abdominal distension, excessive wind, diarrhoea, perhaps a skin rash are common signs.
Although a range of food and drink can have an adverse effect, intolerance to certain sugars such as lactose is common and can be tested for. Wheat intolerance is also common but needs to be distinguished from coeliac disease, which is an immune intolerance to gluten.
People may have issues with food additives, artificial colouring agents, preservatives, caffeine, or many other food components. You can find more information about the support and treatment available here:
Food Intolerance Management ➤
Coeliac disease is an immune reaction to part of a protein called gluten which is found in wheat and some other cereals. It affects about 1 in 300 people and can present very insidiously with fatigue, non-specific symptoms and iron deficiency. Diagnosis is by blood tests confirmed with an endoscopy. The disease nearly always responds to a completely gluten free diet – although this diet is not easy to keep to. People who are wheat intolerant but not Coeliac may feel better on a wheat free diet. A careful diagnosis is important.
Hiatus Hernias and diverticular disease
In a Hiatus Hernia the stomach herniates upwards through a hole (hiatus) in the diaphragm into the chest. This can lead to heartburn, caused by acid reflux, inflammation of the oesophagus (oesophagitis), and sometimes stricturing (narrowing) of the oesophagus.
Diverticular disease is also common, especially as we age. This is where a small pouch of the bowel lining pokes through the muscles lining your gut, which can cause inflammation, or bleeding.
Treatment for both, along with similar internal problems is available, from medication, to surgery in a few cases. Accurate diagnosis is important. There is more information here:
Body Imaging Procedures ➤
Conditions Of The Oesophagus
Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) is a disorder where the valve in the lower oesophagus fails and allows stomach contents to travel upwards. This can cause heartburn, a burning sensation in your throat, or mouth, or coughing when stomach contents enter your lungs.
Oesophagitis is an inflammation of the oesophagus, often due to acid irritation from the stomach. If not treated, this can lead to scarring, or narrowing of the gullet and contribute to the onset of a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus.
Treatment is available for the conditions mentioned above and other oesophageal disorders. Diagnostic procedures will vary: see for instance
Endoscopy & Colonoscopy ➤
Colon & Oesophageal Cancer
Colon cancer affects 30,000 people per year in the UK but is usually curable if caught early. It commonly arises from small growths known as polyps, which increase in size over time and can ultimately turn cancerous. The good news is that these polyps can be detected and removed before they become malignant, by a type of endoscopy called colonoscopy.
Cancer of the oesophagus can arise from a variety of causes, including smoking and having Barrett’s oesophagus. You may notice difficulty swallowing, persistent indigestion, nausea after eating, discomfort in other parts of your upper body. Treatment has a good success rate, especially where the condition is found at an early stage. There is information on screening for digestive cancers here:
Digestive Cancer Screening ➤