Quick Guide: Digestive Disorders

You may think you have PMS or frequently use the excuse "some things just don't agree with my system," when you might have a serious problem.

Andrea Markowitz, Ph.D.

HealthKey.com contributor

March 8, 2010


Bloating, cramping and abdominal pain aren't just associated with PMS. They're also symptoms of digestive disorders. Here's a snapshot of four such problems.

1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Approximately 1 in 5 American adults, most of them women, suffer from IBS. Symptoms include cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and mucus in the stool. Symptom severity ranges from discomfort to disabling.

People with IBS are more reactive to stress, large meals, gas, medicines, certain foods (including wheat, rye, barley, chocolate, dairy products), caffeine and/or alcohol. IBS is treated through diet, stress management, exercise and/or prescribed medications.

2. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases: Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn's Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease ( IBD) is characterized by inflammation in the intestines. Although IBD is chronic, symptoms may cycle, disappearing and flaring up again.

Ulcerative colitis (UC) causes inflammation and sores (ulcers) in the rectum and colon. Symptoms include mild to severe abdominal pain and cramps, bloody diarrhea, anemia, fatigue, weight loss, rectal bleeding, loss of body fluids and nutrients, skin lesions, joint pain, fevers and nausea. UC may lead to arthritis, inflammation of the eye, liver disease, osteoporosis and colon cancer.

In Crohn's Disease the inflammation goes deeper within the intestinal wall and can occur in other parts of the digestive system, including the small intestine, mouth, esophagus and stomach.

Treatments for UC and Crohn's disease depend on the person's symptoms and include specialized diets, stress reduction, medication, hospitalization and surgery.

3. GER and GERD

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a more serious form of gastroesophageal reflux (GER, aka "acid reflux"). In GER, the lower esophageal sphincter opens spontaneously or doesn't close properly, allowing stomach contents and acids to rise into the esophagus, causing burning in the chest or throat. GERD is persistent reflux and can lead to more serious health problems. Symptoms may be aggravated by pregnancy, smoking or eating certain foods, especially fatty and fried foods and those with high acid contents.

4. Celiac Disease

Celiac disease causes an intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and their byproducts. Eating gluten damages the small intestine lining. The only treatment is a gluten-free diet. Since many processed and packaged food products contain gluten, people with celiac disease must read labels carefully.

Common symptoms are stomach pain, gas, diarrhea, exhaustion, mood changes and weight loss. Complications include anemia, malnutrition, infertility and an itchy, blistery skin rash.

For more information on these diseases visit NIDDK.