Gut Feelings: Don't Let Digestive Disorders Keep You Down
Heartburn. Gas. Bloating. Diarrhea. Constipation. They’re not the topics of casual conversation--but if they’re affecting your life, don’t keep it to yourself. Talk to your doctor because help is available.
Four out of 10 people who visit their primary care physician’s office have some sort of gastroenterology-related complaint,” says Dr. Paula Dionisio, a gastroenterologist with Parkview Medical Group.
Here’s a look at the most common digestive disorders and how they’re diagnosed and treated.
Caused when stomach acids back up—or reflux—into the esophagus, acid reflux can damage the lining of your esophagus and cause heartburn. When chronic, uncontrolled heartburn or gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs, it can lead to esophageal inflammation and—in certain cases—an increased risk of cancer of the esophagus.
Diverticulosis—small out-pouchings in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract—is common among older people but usually produces no symptoms. Diverticulitis develops when one of the out-pouchings becomes inflamed or infected. A prescription for antibiotics is the first line of treatment.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
IBS plagues millions of us each year, women more frequently than men; it is second only to the common cold as a reason for calling in sick to work, according to the American College of Gastroenterology. Symptoms—painful cramps, bloating and constipation or diarrhea—often worsen with stress, although the exact cause of IBS is not known. There is no single treatment regimen; dietary changes help some people, and fiber supplements may be used as well.
As anyone who’s ever suffered from a bout of the runs before making a big speech will tell you, there’s a strong link between the brain and the gut. Research in the past decade has identified chemical neurotransmitters that carry signals in both directions between the brain and the digestive system, and this has led to the development of new drugs to treat IBS.
This is a condition in which a portion of the stomach protrudes upward into the chest through an opening in the diaphragm. It may account for some acid reflux symptoms. Most people who suffer from this common condition require no treatment, but laparoscopic surgical repair can be an option if symptoms are severe.
Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBD)
As the name indicates, IBD—which includes both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease—occurs when the bowels (intestines) become inflamed. There’s a genetic predisposition to these conditions, but no one specific cause.
In addition to the new drugs available to treat IBD, clinical trials of various anti-inflammatory agents offer additional hope. One intriguing experimental medicine made from a pig whipworm parasite has proven beneficial for some Crohn’s disease patients.
An ulcer occurs when an area of the intestine is eroded. The majority of ulcers occur as a result of an infection by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) and can typically be treated effectively with antibiotics. The other common cause of ulcers is nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents, which include aspirin, ibuprofen and arthritis medications, so exercise caution when taking over-the-counter pain relievers.
Depending on the specific digestive disorder, your physician may recommend one or more of these treatments:
- Making lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy weight and reducing stress.
- Altering your diet to avoid foods that aggravate your digestive system.
- Taking over-the-counter or prescription medication to ease symptoms.
- Undergoing surgery to treat an underlying condition.
Paula Dionisio, MD
Dr. Paula Dionisio, a Pueblo native and graduate of Central High School, graduated magna cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in 3 years before attending Georgetown University School of Medicine. Dr. Dionisio then completed her Internal Medicine Residency and Gastroenterology Fellowship at the esteemed Mayo Clinic.
Lirio S. Polintan, MD
Specialties: Gastroenterology and Internal Medicine
Dr. Lirio S. Polintan has been practicing in Pueblo since 1981. Dr. Polintan is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology and is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians; American College of Gastroenterology, and American Gastroenterological Association. He is also a member of the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.
Charles Ruzkowski, MD
Dr. Chuck Ruzkowski attended Chicago Medical School, Loyola University Medical Center, and the University of Arizona. He has held academic appointments at the University of Arizona and the University of Iowa. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology and has over 15 years of endoscocpic and practice experience.
Barbara Niven, PA-C
Barbara Niven is a certifed Physician Assistant with extensive experience in caring for patients with gastroenterology disorders. She has a special focus on treating patients diagnosed with Hepatitis-C and helping them to understand their treatment options and pathways.