« Return to UMass Memorial Health - Harrington

Dissecting the Complex World of GI Issues

For a lot of Americans, GI issues feel like something that you have to suffer alone. Whether you feel uncomfortable talking about them with other people, or you have difficulty pinpointing what’s really going on with your digestive system and why, GI issues are plaguing America, becoming a “growing burden” and causing an increasing number of clinic visits and hospitalizations.

In order to start managing the collective crisis, the most important thing to do is get a better understanding of the complex and diverse world of GI issues — what they are and what they do. Far from comprehensive, below is a list of some of the most common GI issues in the United States, their causes, and some of the symptoms associated with them:

  • One of the most common GI issues, reflux can cause heartburn and other uncomfortable symptoms, like difficulty swallowing and even shortness of breath. Because it is more openly talked about in conversations, reflux happens to be one of the most commonly treated GI issues.
  • Peptic ulcers. Characterized by intense stomach pain, peptic ulcers are tricky to treat without a diagnosis because reaching for a traditional painkiller, like aspirin, actually makes them worse – not better.
  • Little pebbles formed from cholesterol and bile salts, almost one million Americans will have gallstones each year. And while only one in four of those people will need surgical treatment, those that do will often have their gallbladder removed.
  • Lactose intolerance. If you are lactose intolerant, you’re not alone. An estimated fifty million Americans are because they don’t produce the right enzyme for digesting the sugar found in milk. While lactose intolerance can range in severity, many of the symptoms are the same, including cramping, bloating, nausea and diarrhea.
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The two most common inflammatory bowel diseases are Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis. While they are difficult (and sometimes impossible) to officially diagnose, symptoms include intense abdominal pain, diarrhea, anemia, and weight loss.
  • Celiac Disease. A rare GI issue in the United States (only 1% of the population has it), Celiac Disease is an autoimmune digestive order that makes it impossible to consume gluten without attacking their small intestine. People who have Celiac Disease will complain of abdominal pain, persistent diarrhea, vomiting and constipation. To diagnose the disease, doctors will order blood tests and stool samples.

An almost chronic condition for much of the population, Americans are actually making their GI issues worse by constantly using stimulant laxatives to ease the symptoms of constipation. Rather than making the gut dependent on laxatives, doctors recommend diet and exercise changes. (If you’re wondering, experts say that regular bowel movements vary from person to person, with the average being somewhere between three times each day and just three times each week).

100 South Street, Southbridge, MA 01550
Harrington OB/Gyn
Main Hospital
Central Scheduling