With symptoms ranging from fatigue to abdominal pain and discomfort, gastrointestinal disorders can present differently on a patient-by-patient basis, making these common conditions challenging to diagnose. An estimated 60-70 million Americans suffer from gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, in many cases unknowingly. Recent research published in Gastroenterology reports that over 40% of the global population has a functional gastrointestinal disorder (FGID) – which has significant adverse effects on quality of life and health care use.
According to data from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, GI disorders account for close to 50 million hospital visits and 21.7 million hospital admissions per year; they also lead to nearly 250,000 deaths annually. Furthermore, the treatment and management of gastrointestinal disorders give rise to $141.8 billion in U.S. healthcare expenditure, signaling an urgent need for increased awareness and clinical interventions.
An Overview of Gastrointestinal Disorders
By definition, gastrointestinal disorders are medical conditions that affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract (i.e., the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine). These disorders may be caused by an infection, stress, poor dietary patterns, genetic factors, and aging, or they may arise from other systemic ailments.
Symptoms of GI Disorders
Some gastrointestinal disorders are characterized by specific symptoms, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, or constipation. However, most disorders have non-specific symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and indigestion; at times, GI disorders can present no symptoms at all. In addition, symptoms may vary from person to person.
Common symptoms associated with many prevalent gastrointestinal conditions can include: abdominal discomfort; weight loss; nausea and vomiting; acid reflux; diarrhea or constipation; and loss of appetite.
The Most Common Gastrointestinal Disorders
From gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the gastrointestinal tract is plagued by various disorders, ranging from benign and mild to severe and debilitating. In diagnosing patients, clinicians need to remain aware of all potential gastrointestinal conditions; some of the most common disorders are outlined below.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that causes acid to back up from the stomach into the esophagus resulting in chest pain or discomfort.
GERD is thought to be one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders, affecting 20 percent of Americans at some point in their lives. It is estimated that approximately 50 million people are affected by GERD, and 7 million have symptoms severe enough to warrant treatment.
Potential GERD treatments are pharmacotherapy, nutritional interventions, and weight management interventions. Over-the-counter remedies for treating GERD include antacids, H2 receptor antagonists like Pepcid AC, and proton pump inhibitors such as Prilosec OTC.
With cases rising in prevalence in recent years, celiac disease is a multifactorial gastrointestinal disorder that can lead to both nutrient deficiencies and gastrointestinal discomfort and other symptoms like fatigue and abdominal pain. This disorder is caused by an autoimmune response to gluten and can present digestive and non-intestinal symptoms.
Currently, there is no known cure for celiac disease; however, following a gluten-free diet has proven to manage adverse symptoms effectively.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are among the most common manifestations of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – an umbrella term used to describe chronic digestive tract inflammatory conditions. They can cause a wide range of symptoms, including persistent diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting, weight loss, appetite loss, and nausea. While there is no known cure for IBD at present, patients can manage their condition through lifestyle changes or medication and, in some cases, may benefit from surgical interventions.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the term used to describe a group of gastrointestinal conditions that present with abdominal pain, bloating, and cramps with either diarrhea or constipation. These symptoms manifest without underlying inflammation, chemical or anatomical abnormalities and are often caused by various factors, including gut microbiome irritation. Symptoms can be severe or mild, and they may come and go.
Treatment depends on the type of IBS a patient is experiencing and can include low-FODMAP diets, stress management techniques, probiotics, and prescription medications.
Managing GI Disorders in Clinical Practice
Numerous gastrointestinal disorders cause symptoms ranging from mild discomfort to severe illness and death. In some cases, treatments can be highly effective, but in others, conditions may have no known treatment or cure. A paramount approach to managing GI disorders is based on nutritional interventions and healing the gut microbiome.
Research has shown that individuals with IBD, IBS, and other GI conditions can experience improvement in their symptoms through the implementation of the Low FODMAP diet. FODMAP is an acronym for “Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols.” High FODMAP foods can cause malabsorption, water retention, and fermentation in the small intestine, which can contribute to uncomfortable GI symptoms.
According to Ted James, M.D., medical director at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center–Harvard Medical School, patients who are well-informed and educated about their condition not only have greater satisfaction of care but also tend to have better outcomes and lower costs. Using a remote patient education platform, health practitioners can enable and streamline that patient education to guide patients through treatment of IBD, IBS, and other GI issues with appropriate dietary and lifestyle interventions. ADigital Health, A4M’s remote care platform, includes a turnkey Low FODMAP Diet program that you can use with your patients experiencing these symptoms to achieve those outcomes.