Digestive Disorders (Indigestion)

The term digestive problems collect various complaints related to the digestive process and mainly affects the gastrointestinal tract. Classic symptoms are abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation. There are many possible triggers for the symptoms. The causes are often harmless. However, there can also be severe medical conditions behind digestive problems that require medical attention. Here you will find all information on the causes, diagnostics, and therapy of digestive issues.

What are the digestive problems?

Digestive disorders can manifest in various symptoms, which occur individually or often together. It is difficult to distinguish between primary and secondary symptoms such as circulatory problems or fever. The most well-known symptoms range from abdominal pain or cramps that are difficult to localize, which can be dull or stabbing, to specific stomach pain, flatulence, a feeling of fullness, nausea with or without vomiting, and loss of appetite. But changes in bowel movements such as constipation or diarrhea are also common digestive problems.

Nausea and vomiting

Nausea is an uncomfortable sensation caused when the brain sends signals indicating you’re feeling sick. These symptoms can occur for various reasons, and treatment will vary depending on the cause of your nausea. Nausea is a common symptom of the flu, food poisoning, pregnancy, chemotherapy, and food allergies. On the other hand, vomiting happens when your brain and stomach signal it’s appropriate to expel the contents of your stomach. Vomiting due to pregnancy is a commonly asked question. While most women will experience this at some point in their pregnancies, vomiting is not a symptom that automatically means something is wrong.

Nausea and vomiting are non-specific symptoms that can have many causes, such as disgust, gastrointestinal infections, heart attack, and meningitis. Read more about the Causes, Treatments, Complications Prevention, and When to Seek Help.

Often not just one but several digestive problems occur at the same time. In addition, individual symptoms vary in severity. Abdominal pain, for example, can be dull, stabbing, or cramping (colic). Sometimes they affect a specific region and spread diffusely over the entire abdomen.

In addition, other complaints can accompany digestive problems. These include example, sweating, fever, or circulatory disorders. The weight of those affected may also change. How a digestive disease manifests itself depends largely on its cause.

What causes digestive problems?

Digestive problems can have many triggers. A large part of this is not worrying but still very uncomfortable for the person concerned. But severe and acute illnesses can also cause digestive problems.

Lifestyle-Related Digestive Disorders

Lifestyle has a significant influence on digestion and is responsible for many gastrointestinal problems:

  • Stress often leads to hectic eating habits, in which the food is no longer chewed sufficiently. This makes digestion difficult. When stressed, the body also releases more so-called stress hormones (the best-known example: adrenaline), which slows down intestinal activity.
  • The selection and preparation of the food also affect its digestibility of the food. Very greasy, spicy, salty, and sweet foods are more difficult to digest.
  • Sufficient exercise stimulates digestion. Therefore, a lack of training often leads to problems in digestion, especially constipation.
  • Stimulants such as alcohol and nicotine negatively affect the muscle function of the gastrointestinal tract and thus disrupt digestion. They also promote hyperacidity in the stomach.

How does alcohol affect the body and psyche? When does consumption become risky? And what damage can it cause? Find out here!

Other disruptive factors for digestion

Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during pregnancy, also lead to temporary digestive problems. And digestion also becomes sluggish with age. Therefore, in these life situations, adjustments to the diet plan are the most important means of preventing digestive disorders.

Which drugs affect digestion?

Many medications also affect digestion and cause problems here. Antibiotics, for example, cannot distinguish between different bacteria. Therefore, they not only kill the bacteria that they are supposed to fight but also the “good” bacteria of the intestinal flora and thereby damage them. The most common consequence of this is diarrhea. Bacterial strains, such as those found in acidified milk products or sauerkraut, can counteract this and help the intestinal flora to regenerate.

Pain relievers from the group of opiates, on the other hand, slow down intestinal activity, which causes constipation if taken repeatedly. On the other hand, taking NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and painkillers triggers acute diarrhea in many patients. However, these usually go away on their own after a short time.

Diseases of the stomach and esophagus

Common digestive disorders in the upper part of the stomach are nausea and vomiting. They are typical symptoms of a gastrointestinal infection (gastroenteritis). An inflamed gastric mucosa (gastritis), on the other hand, triggers pain immediately after eating, for example. Reflux disease, in turn, causes digestive problems such as heartburn and acid regurgitation. But stomach ulcers also cause pain and digestive problems.

The stomach flu, also called gastroenteritis, is a flu-like illness that typically lasts one to three days. The virus that causes the stomach flu is usually spread through contaminated food or water but can also be spread from person to person. It is most commonly spread through droplets when someone coughs or sneezes and can also be spread by touching contaminated surfaces and then putting your hand in your mouth or nose.

Stomach flu is an inflammation of the digestive tract (gastroenteritis) caused by pathogens. Read everything you need to know about gastroenteritis here.

Diseases in the small and large intestine

Physicians include all diseases in the area of ​​the small and large intestine in the group of intestinal disorders. The causes here are numerous and can be inherited or acquired. However, the focus here is always on changes in the stool, such as diarrhea, constipation, or even blood in the stool.

Intestinal diseases with digestive problems include gastrointestinal flu as well as traveler’s diarrhea or the group of chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), which have Crohn’s diseaseulcerative colitis, or diverticulitis. The symptoms often mean a heavy burden for the affected patients. Part of the treatment is an adapted diet, which, if necessary, is supplemented by a temporary or permanent medication administration to combat the inflammation.

Crohn’s Disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that attacks the digestive tract. It’s a chronic, incurable condition that causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding. But despite the name, Crohn’s Disease isn’t a single disease. Crohn’s Disease is just one of several IBDs, including ulcerative colitis and indeterminate colitis.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that usually progresses in phases. Read more about causes, symptoms, and therapy!

Food intolerances and allergies

Diseases and intolerance to certain foods or a food allergy to individual substances disturb the digestion. Diet, lifestyle, and environmental factors all play an essential role. A genetic predisposition is behind it only in rare cases. This is the case with neurodermatitisasthma, or hay fever, which belong to the atopic group of diseases.

Intolerance to gluten (celiac disease), peanuts, or eggs, and lactose and fructose intolerance are among the most common. They cause digestive problems because the body cannot digest the food or cannot digest it properly and excretes it unprocessed. Expected consequences are diarrhea or cramping abdominal pain.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the villi that lines the small intestine, causing inflammation and sometimes damaging the villi’s function. It’s estimated that at least 1 in 133 people in the United States has celiac disease, though this percentage may be higher in some areas. The symptoms have little to do with weight, though they can cause weight loss, diarrhea, and other digestive issues. Celiac disease is hard to diagnose since blood tests often don’t yield a precise diagnosis, and many patients don’t experience any symptoms until later in life. Read everything about the right diet for celiac disease!

Diseases of the liver, gallbladder and pancreas

In addition to the stomach and intestines, the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas also play essential roles in digestion. This complicates the digestive process if these organs only function to a limited extent (due to illness, accidents, etc.). For example, the pancreas produces enzymes necessary for healthy digestion. If they are no longer or not sufficiently produced, digestive disorders result.

Liver infections such as the various forms of hepatitis also harm digestion. And gallstones often cause a feeling of fullness, nausea, and vomiting or trigger pain. In the case of liver cirrhosis (shriveled liver), the organ can no longer cope with its detoxification task. Bloating and weight loss are expected consequences of this.

Most people have heard of hepatitis, but they may not know that hepatitis is a disease that can damage the liver. There are different types of hepatitis, and the symptoms vary from one person to the next. Hepatitis A, B, and C are the most common types of hepatitis. Hepatitis A is spread through contaminated water or food and is typically passed through ingesting contaminated food or water. Hep B and C are passed from person to person, usually through sexual contact.

Hepatitis is usually caused by viruses. Read all about the forms, ways of infection, risks and preventive measures!

Cholelithiasis, also known as gallstone disease, occurs when bile deposits in the gallbladder. The gallbladder stores bile, produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder until needed. When your gallbladder is full, bile is released through the common bile duct into the duodenum, the last portion of your small intestine, to break down fats.

Gallstones are crystallized, poorly soluble components of the bile. If your upper abdomen makes you uncomfortable, you may have a stomach or gallstone. Although most gallstones are noncancerous, they can block bile ducts or veins and cause abdominal pain. But before you jump to the conclusion that you need surgery, Learn about gallstones and what the treatment options are and their origin and possible consequences!

Diseases of the mouth and throat

Some digestive problems are caused by the oral cavity or the throat area. Digestion begins not in the stomach but the mouth with the first bite.

Chewing and grinding food and mixing it with saliva are digestion’s first and essential steps. Due to inflamed salivary glands or pharyngitis, these preparatory digestive processes and swallowing are only possible to a limited extent or with pain. This causes indigestion as the food ends up in the stomach with insufficient liquid and is poorly chewed.

If you’ve ever looked down your throat and found a red, inflamed streak, you may be wondering what it’s called. Pharyngitis is an inflammation of the voice box, called your oropharynx, caused by an infection or irritation. Most of the time, the inflammation will go away on its own after a few days, but if it does persist, it may require treatment.

Pharyngitis causes a sore throat and difficulty swallowing. Read more about symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and therapy of pharyngitis!

What does the doctor do for indigestion?

If digestive problems persist or are particularly severe, a visit to the doctor is necessary. The doctor uses various means to find out what is behind the digestive problems before the diagnosis.

A detailed discussion with the doctor (anamnesis) is always the first step toward diagnosing. In it, the doctor focuses on risk factors such as medication or already known diseases. He also asks about the symptoms’ circumstances and their frequency and severity.

Palpation and listening of the abdomen are the essential components of the physical examination. Further investigations are:

  • An abdominal ultrasound is used if there is a suspicion of thickened intestinal walls or an intestine inflammation (appendicitis).
  • X-ray examinations are a means of clarifying gallstones or kidney stones. Contrast agents help to detect changes in the mucous membrane, such as polyps and tumors.
  • Computer tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides an even more precise picture of the stomach structure. Thickenings and enlargements are visible.
  • Endoscopic examinations such as a stomach (gastroscopy) or colonoscopy (colonoscopy) are carried out if stomach/intestinal mucosa diseases are suspected.
  • Allergy tests, such as prick or breath tests, help the doctor to clarify whether there is a food allergy or intolerance.
  • Blood and stool tests provide further important information for the diagnosis.

Most adults are familiar with colonoscopy, a diagnostic procedure used to examine the colon’s lining. The colonoscopy takes a detailed picture of the lining of the colon, which can help diagnose and treat diseases that affect this part of the body. The standard colonoscopy is a procedure that examines the entire colon, including the ascending and descending colon, the sigmoidoscope examines only the sigmoid portion of the colon, and the ileostomy is an ultra-small scope used to examine the ileum. Read more about it here!

The colon is an organ that has a lot of responsibilities. It’s the primary way the body breaks down the food we eat, absorbing nutrients and water, and flushing out waste. In a healthy colon, waste moves through with no problem, but many people find this messier than others. If the colon becomes damaged, constipation and diarrhea can occur. That’s when a stool exam is handy. A stool exam can measure how healthy the colon is by reviewing the amount of stool, the appearance, and the consistency of your poop.

During a stool examination, human feces are analyzed for pathogens and blood. Read more about it here!

Ultrasound is an imaging technology helpful in diagnosing many medical conditions. The procedure involves generating high-frequency sound waves that bounce off internal body parts to produce an image of those tissues. Ultrasounds can image internal organs, such as the liver, bladder, kidneys, pancreas, bones, muscles, tendons, internal bleeding, and tumors.

The doctor can examine various body regions and organs with ultrasound examinations. Read all about the function and significance of the method!

How are digestive problems treated?

What helps with digestive problems always depends on the respective causes. Therefore, what needs to be done to treat digestive disorders must always be individually adapted.

What can I do myself?

There are many non-drug treatment options for digestive problems that you can start yourself (or in consultation with your doctor). A large number of the symptoms can be significantly improved or even managed by adjusting your eating habits. It is important to note when the symptoms appear and when they improve.

There are also many home remedies available to relieve symptoms. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, chamomile tea has a soothing and calming effect on almost all gastrointestinal complaints. A diet with sufficient fiber, such as that found in whole grain products, and enough fruit and vegetables, prevents constipation. Hot-water bottles can quickly relieve cramping symptoms but must be avoided in the case of inflammation. Diarrhea leads to dehydration. A simple water-salt-sugar mixture counteracts this, while oatmeal helps to stop diarrhea.

ⓘ Note:

Home remedies have their limits. If the symptoms persist over an extended period, do not get better, or even worsen, you should always consult a doctor.

 

A stomach massage helps especially with constipation and flatulence. Please read here for how to proceed with the abdominal massage and when it is not advisable!

How does the doctor treat digestive problems?

Drugs such as antacids to neutralize stomach acid in heartburn are typically used to treat disturbed digestion. Antihistamines or lactase tablets are used when there is a food allergy. On the other hand, the doctor prescribes glucocorticoid preparations, for example, against inflammation of the gastric mucosa. They inhibit the pain and fight the inflammation itself.

If drug treatment is insufficient, surgery may be necessary in some cases. A surgical procedure on the intestine can be unavoidable, for example, in the case of advanced ulcerative colitis or colon cancer. Surgery is also part of the therapy for a severe stomach ulcer.

Constipation is a common problem when the bowel doesn’t move enough or often. The colon, or large intestine, is a large, muscular organ that absorbs water, fat, and electrolytes from food, digests it, and supplies the stool. The colon’s job is to excrete waste material through defecation.

Swelling agents, lubricants, gas-forming laxatives – how do they work and when is which drug best suited?

Gastric bypass surgery (also known as Roux-en Y bypass or RNY gastric bypass) is a weight loss procedure in which part of the stomach is bypassed to dramatically reduce the amount of food the stomach can hold at one time. As a result, patients feel full faster after eating and eat less.

In a gastrectomy, the entire stomach is removed. Discover how the surgery works and what you need to consider after a gastrectomy.

An artificial anus or artificial sphincter (AS) is a surgical device that restores a person’s ability to control their bladder. It is based on a silicone rubber pouch placed between the rectum and the vagina. The pouch fills with air to create a strong sphincter seal and acts as a natural valve. This seal prevents urine from flowing back into the bladder and allows the bladder to be emptied. The pouch allows patients to control urine flow instead of relying on external sphincter muscles. The tight seal also prevents leakage.

An artificial anus allows patients to defecate. Find out more about the artificial bowel outlet and what needs to be considered.

Scientific standards:

This text corresponds to the requirements of specialist medical literature, medical guidelines, and current studies and has been checked by medical professionals.