Digestive Diseases and Disorders
Gastroenterologists treat diseases of the digestive tract including esophagus, stomach, colon, small intestine, pancreas, gallbladder, and liver.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
When stomach acid backs up into your esophagus — a condition called acid reflux — you may feel a burning pain in the middle of your chest. It often occurs after meals or at night. While it’s common for people to experience acid reflux and heartburn once in a while, having symptoms that affect your daily life or occur at least twice each week could be a sign of GERD, a chronic digestive disease. If you experience persistent heartburn, bad breath, tooth erosion, nausea, pain in your chest or upper part of your abdomen, or have trouble swallowing or breathing, ask your PCP for a referral to one of our specialists.
Most people find relief by avoiding the foods and beverages that trigger their symptoms and/or taking over-the-counter antacids or other medication that reduces stomach acid production and inflammation of the esophagus. In addition, lifestyle changes like elevating the head of the bed, not lying down after a meal, avoiding tight-fitting clothing, and quitting smoking can also help. However, some cases of GERD require stronger treatment, such as medication or surgery.
Gallstones are hard deposits that form in your gallbladder — a small, pear-shaped sac that stores and secretes bile for digestion. Gallstones can form when there’s too much cholesterol or waste in your bile, or if your gallbladder doesn’t empty properly. When gallstones block the ducts leading from your gallbladder to your intestines, they can cause sharp pain in your upper-right abdomen. If gallstones are blocking the bile duct our specialists can perform an Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangio-Pancreatography to remove them. Medication can sometimes also dissolves gallstones, but if that doesn’t work or the gallstones are in the gallbladder itself the next step is surgery to remove the gallbladder.
Celiac disease is a serious sensitivity to gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Eat gluten, and your immune system goes on the attack: It damages your villi, the fingerlike protrusions in your small intestines that help you absorb nutrients from the foods you eat. Symptoms may include abdominal pain and bloating, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, and weight loss. Symptoms in adults can also include anemia, fatigue, bone loss, depression, and seizures.
Yet some people may not have any symptoms. The only treatment for celiac disease is to completely avoid eating gluten. Common alternatives to gluten include brown rice, quinoa, lentils, soy flour, corn flour, and amaranth.
Crohn’s disease is part of a group of digestive conditions called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Crohn’s can affect any part of the GI tract but most commonly affects the terminal ileum, which connects the end of the small bowel and the beginning of the colon.
Doctors aren't sure what causes the disease, but it's thought that genetics and family history may play a part. The most common Crohn's symptoms are abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, weight loss, and fever. Treatment depends on the symptoms and can include topical pain relievers, immunosuppressants, and or surgery. Avoiding trigger foods like dairy products, carbonated beverages, alcohol, coffee, raw fruit and vegetables, red meat, and foods that are fatty, fried, spicy, or gas-producing can also help prevent flares.
Ulcerative colitis is another inflammatory bowel disease that affect many people. The symptoms of ulcerative colitis are very similar to those of Crohn's, but the part of the digestive tract affected is solely the large intestine, also known as the colon.
If your immune system mistakes food or other materials for invaders, sores or ulcers develop in the colon’s lining. If you experience frequent and urgent bowel movements, pain with diarrhea, blood in your stool, or abdominal cramps, visit your doctor.
Medication can suppress the inflammation and eliminating foods that cause discomfort may help as well. In severe cases, treatment for ulcerative colitis may involve surgery to remove the colon.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Is your digestive tract irritable? Do you have stomach pain or discomfort at least three times a month for several months? It could be irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), another common digestive condition.
Signs of IBS can vary widely from having hard, dry stools one day to loose, watery stools on another. Bloating is also a symptom of IBS.
What causes IBS isn’t known, but treatment of symptoms centers largely on diet, such as eating low-fat, high-fiber meals and avoiding common trigger foods (dairy products, alcohol, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, and foods that produce gas).Additionally, friendly bacteria, such as the probiotics found in live yogurt, may help you feel better. Stress can trigger IBS symptoms, so some people find cognitive behavioral therapy or low-dose antidepressants to be useful treatments, as well.
Bright red blood in the toilet bowl when you move your bowels could be a sign of hemorrhoids, which is a very common condition. In fact, 75 percent of Americans over age 45 have hemorrhoids, according to the NIDDK.
Hemorrhoids are an inflammation of the blood vessels at the end of your digestive tract that can be painful and itchy. Causes include chronic constipation, diarrhea, straining during bowel movements, and a lack of fiber in your diet.
Treat hemorrhoids by eating more fiber, drinking more water, and exercising. Over-the-counter creams and suppositories may provide temporary relief of hemorrhoid symptoms. If at-home treatments don’t help; sometimes a hemorrhoidectomy is needed to remove hemorrhoids surgically.
Small pouches called diverticula can form anywhere there are weak spots in the lining of your digestive system, but they are most commonly found in the colon. If you have diverticula but no symptoms, the condition is called diverticulosis, which is quite common among older adults and rarely causes problems. By age 50, about half of people have diverticulosis, according to the American Gastroenterological Association. But in about 5 percent of people, the pouches become inflamed or infected, a condition called diverticulitis. Symptoms include fever, chills, nausea, and abdominal pain. Obesity is a major risk factor for diverticulitis.
Mild diverticulitis is treated with antibiotics and a clear liquid diet so your colon can heal. A low-fiber diet could be the cause of diverticulitis, so your doctor may direct you to eat a diet high in fiber — whole grains, legumes, vegetables — as part of your treatment.
If you have severe attacks that recur frequently, you may need surgery to remove the diseased part of your colon.
Anal fissures are tiny, oval-shaped tears in the lining of the very end of your digestive tract called your anus. The symptoms are similar to those of hemorrhoids, such as bleeding and pain after moving your bowels. Straining and hard bowel movements can cause fissures, but so can soft stools and diarrhea.
A high-fiber diet that makes your stool well-formed and bulky is often the best treatment for this common digestive condition. Medication to relax the anal sphincter muscles, as well as topical anesthetics and sitz baths, can relieve pain; however, chronic fissures may require surgery of the anal sphincter muscle.One of these innovations is the use of Overstitch technology to endoscopically close defects of the stomach and colon without surgery.
Gastroenterologists also treat liver disease, which is a sweeping term for any malfunction of the liver. Symptoms of liver disease can include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and jaundice. Fatigue, weakness and weight loss may also occur. Chronic and severe digestive problems like heartburn or pain after eating can also indicate a condition of the liver.
Our gastroenterologists can perform diagnostic tests and examinations to provide diagnosis and treatment for patients with chronic and severe conditions such as:
- Scarring or liver damage — Cirrhosis, often caused by alcohol abuse
- Hepatitis infections
- Damage to the pancreas or biliary tract
- Liver cancer
- Drug overdose
- Genetic and metabolic liver disease
- Gallstones — Hardened deposits of digestive fluid in the gallbladder
- Pancreatitis — Inflammation of the pancreas
If you are experiencing these symptoms, ask your primary care doctor if you should see a gastroenterologist.