Gastroenterology is the medical specialty concerned with the structure and function of the digestive tract (also called gastrointestinal [GI] tract). Some symptoms that can indicate disease or dysfunction of the GI tract include nausea, vomiting, weight loss, heartburn, regurgitation, abdominal pain, abdominal bloating, rectal bleeding, constipation, and diarrhea. Digestion of food and fluids is a very complex process, so persistent symptoms may require a gastroenterologist’s evaluation to determine the cause. Knowing the cause of symptoms can then lead to proper treatment and control or management.
IBS is a common GI disorder that can considerably reduce the quality of life. It affects as many as 5%-20% of individuals worldwide. It occurs more often in women than in men, and is more commonly diagnosed in patients younger than 50 years of age. Symptoms range from diarrhea to constipation, or a combination of the two. Abdominal pain or discomfort often exist alongside abdominal distension.
Diagnosis of IBS is made after obtaining a medical history, physical exam, and diagnostic testing to learn if any disease process is causing the symptoms. There is evidence to show that IBS can be a result of genetics, environment and social learning, dietary or intestinal microorganisms, low-grade inflammation and/or dysfunction of muscular movements, secretions and sensation.
Many patients with IBS ignore their symptoms, believing they are a normal part of everyday life. The good news is that with proper diagnosis, there are ways to treat or manage the symptoms. Don’t ignore persistent symptoms, there is help available.
IBD is not the same as IBS, and understanding the difference is important for proper treatment. The symptoms can be the same, but the problem causing the symptoms is very different. Inflammatory bowel disease includes Crohn’s Disease (CD) and Ulcerative Colitis (UC). Crohn’s Disease can cause inflammation through the walls of the GI tract and can affect any part of the GI tract. Ulcerative Colitis commonly includes inflammation of the GI mucosa and is limited to the colon (large intestine). Recent research showed that some factors that can lead to IBD includes genetic susceptibility, environment, intestinal microorganisms, and immune responses. Medications are directed at treating the active inflammation, which can then decrease or control the symptoms.
Since symptoms of many GI disorders can be the same, a thorough medical history, physical exam, and proper diagnostic testing is crucial to obtaining a correct diagnosis and treatment. Open communication with your gastroenterologist and health care providers is essential to appropriate management and treatment. Be sure to tell your doctor about symptoms that concern you and new problems that arise. Do not hesitate to ask questions to ensure your understanding of your diagnosis and any treatment prescribed. Being a partner in your health care can lead to a healthier, happier life!
Written By: Julie Baker, RN
Resource: World Journal of Gastroenterology