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4 Most Common Digestive Disorders


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What are Digestive Disorders?

Digestive disorders are a common problem in people of all ages. They are conditions involving the digestive tract, also known as the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The GI tract includes the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, liver and pancreas. Some digestive disorders are short-term while others are chronic or long-lasting.


The 2 Types of Digestive Disorders

Digestive disorders can be broadly categorized into 2 groups, namely functional disorders and structural disorders.


  • Functional gastrointestinal disorders are common disorders that are characterized by persistent and recurring GI symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation and abdominal pain. These occur as a result of the abnormal functioning of the GI tract with no structural abnormalities.

  • Structural gastrointestinal disorders are those where your bowel looks abnormal upon examination and also doesn't work properly. Sometimes, the structural abnormality needs to be removed surgically. Common examples of structural GI diseases include strictures, stenosis, hemorrhoids, diverticular disease, colon polyps, colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.

This article will focus on functional digestive disorders.


Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a functional disorder of the digestive system that is characterized by abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation.¹ IBS is the most commonly diagnosed gastrointestinal condition.


Common symptoms:¹

  • Abdominal pain is usually crampy and have varying intensities. Stress can sometimes worsen the pain, while having a bowel movement relieves it. In some females with IBS, there can be an association between the pain episodes and their menstrual cycle.¹

  • Changes in bowel habits are also typical symptoms of IBS, which can include diarrhea, constipation or even alternate between both diarrhea and constipation. Depending on which symptoms are more common, the condition is called either diarrhea-predominant IBS or constipation-predominant IBS.¹


The symptoms of IBS can be treated with symptomatic medicines like anti-diarrheals for diarrhea, anti-spasmodics for abdominal cramps and laxatives for constipation.¹


Other things you can do to manage the symptoms include:

  • Starting a diary to keep track of your meals, activities and emotions. You can figure out your symptom triggers by doing this²

  • Avoiding foods or drinks that might be making your IBS worse which can include dairy products² & fatty food.

  • Eating more fiber if you have constipation symptoms but stop if it makes your symptoms worse²

  • Engaging in an excercise for ≥30 minutes on most days of the week. Studies have shown that this helps improve IBS symptoms²

  • Taking probiotics that can help promote a healthy gut microflora to manage IBS symptoms³


Traveller’s Diarrhea (TD)

Travellers' diarrhea is runny or watery bowel movements in travellers, especially those from resource-rich countries travelling to resource-limited regions of the world. Traveller’s diarrhea can be caused by bacteria, virus or parasites.


The main symptom of traveller’s diarrhea is watery stools and can last up to 5 days or longer. Other accompanying symptoms can include:⁴

  • Lower abdominal cramps

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Fever

  • Gas and Bloating

  • Loss of Appetite

You can treat traveller’s diarrhea by drinking enough fluid to replenish fluid lost. If you are drinking enough, your urine will look light yellow or almost clear. Doctors may also prescribe anti-diarrheals or antibiotics for more severe diarrhea but it is not always necessary.


Other measures you can take to prevent traveller’s diarrhea include:

  • Avoiding tap water and only drinking bottled fluids⁴

  • Avoiding the use of ice in drinks as they are usually made from tap water4

  • Avoiding food from street carts⁴

  • Making sure foods are fully cooked before consumption⁴

  • Taking probiotics to maintain a healthy digestive system³

Probiotics such as Pro-Gut™ can maintain a healthy gut and help manage symptoms of digestive disorders

Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea (AAD)

Antibiotic-associated diarrhea can happen to those taking or recently completed a course of antibiotics. Most often, it is caused by an infection with bacteria called Clostridium difficile or C. diff for short, which may overgrow during antibiotic therapy.⁵


The common symptoms of AAD include:⁵

  • Watery diarrhea (≥ 3 bowel movements daily for ≥ 2 days)

  • Mild abdominal cramps


More severe symptoms can also be experienced, such as:⁵

  • Fever

  • Blood or pus in stools

  • Nausea or loss of appetite

  • Dehydration (extremely yellow urine, thirst, confusion)


What you can do when you have AAD:⁵

  • Drink lots of fluids that have water, salt, and sugar, such as an Oral Rehydration Salt (ORS) that you can easily get from the pharmacy.

  • Eat some food for nutrition even if you have a lack of appetite. Good choices are potatoes, noodles, rice, oatmeal, crackers, bananas, soup and boiled vegetables.

  • Take probiotics to help restore a well-balanced gut microflora and healthy gut

  • Maintain proper hand hygiene by washing your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after you use the bathroom and before you eat.


Chronic Constipation

Constipation is the most common digestive complaint in the general population and is generally defined as a stool frequency of < 3 per week.⁶ Chronic constipation is the condition where the symptoms persist for 3 months or longer.⁷ Constipation can be caused by side effects of certain medications, poor diet lacking in fibre and digestive diseases.⁶


When you have constipation, your stools may be:

  • Too hard

  • Too small

  • Difficult to pass


You can treat constipation by:

  • Increasing your fibre intake as this can reduce constipation⁸

  • Drinking plenty of water and other fluids to soften the stools⁸

  • Not ignoring urges to go to the toilet as these signals may become weaker over time⁸

  • Adhering to a regular schedule for bowel movements, preferably after meals⁸

  • Taking probiotics to help maintain a healthy digestive system³

  • Taking over the counter medicines like laxatives which will help with bowel movement⁸


Conclusion

  • There are many different types of functional digestive disorders that may sometimes be caused by an underlying disease.

  • There are things you can do to manage the symptoms of digestive disorders such as:

    • Increasing fibre intake

    • Taking probiotics


References

  1. Wald A. Patient education: Irritable bowel syndrome (Beyond the Basics). In: UpToDate, Post, TW (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA, 2021

  2. Patient education: Irritable bowel syndrome (The Basics). In: UpToDate, Post, TW (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA, 2021

  3. Butel M-J. Probiotics, gut microbiota and health. Médecine et Maladies Infectieuses. 2014;44(1):1-8.

  4. Patient education: Travelers' diarrhea (The Basics). In: UpToDate, Post, TW (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA, 2021

  5. Patient education: Antibiotic-associated diarrhea (C. difficile infection) (The Basics). In: UpToDate, Post, TW (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA, 2021

  6. Wald A. Etiology and evaluation of chronic constipation in adults. In: UpToDate, Post, TW (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA, 2021

  7. Wald A. Etiology and evaluation of chronic constipation in adults. In: UpToDate, Post, TW (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA, 2021

  8. Wald A. Patient education: Constipation in adults (Beyond the Basics). In: UpToDate, Post, TW (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA, 2021


Disclaimer: The article content is intended for informational or educational purposes only, and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultations with healthcare professionals. The disclaimer also provides that no warranties are given in relation to the medical information supplied in the article, and that no liability will accrue to Miraco Nutripharm Pte Ltd or any affiliated authors in the event that a user suffers loss as a result of reliance upon the information.

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