3 Common Digestive Conditions

For many people, admitting they have a digestive condition is embarrassing and they're usually reluctant to talk openly about their concerns. But rest assured. Millions of people each year see their doctor because of digestive problems and, often, there are simple fixes. Talking to your doctor about any problems you may be having can help alleviate worry, reduce your symptoms, and keep your condition in check.

Here are three common digestive problems and what you can do to find relief.

1. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Nearly one-third of all adults in the U.S. suffer from some form of gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, with about ten percent experiencing the problem weekly or daily. Symptoms include frequent heartburn, a burning type of pain in the lower part of the mid-chest and in the mid-abdomen, also called acid indigestion, painful swallowing and regurgitation of sour-tasting material into the mouth. Over time, GERD can lead to esophageal cancer.

Treatment Options

Depending on the severity of your GERD, your doctor may prescribe drugs that reduce acid levels, such as proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid. Treatment may also involve lifestyle changes, including quitting smoking, avoiding foods and beverages that trigger the problem and losing weight.

2. Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The term inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers to two related but different disorders, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, in which the intestinal tract becomes chronically inflamed. There are more than one million people with IBD in the US. Although IBD usually affects people between the ages of 10 and 30, it is also commonly seen in older adults between the ages of 50 and 60. The most common symptoms for both diseases include diarrhea, rectal bleeding, cramping, fever and weight loss.

Treatment Options

Surgery, in which the colon is removed and either an external or internal pouch is used to collect waste, is the only option for curing ulcerative colitis, although there are many effective drugs available to control both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease and keep them in long-term remission. Treatments usually include a combination of prescription anti-inflammatories, steroids and immunosuppressants.

3. Lactose Intolerance. Between 30 million and 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant, meaning they aren't able to fully digest the milk sugar (lactose) in dairy products because their body can't produce the lactese enzyme. Although the problem isn't usually dangerous, its symptoms can be uncomfortable and include cramping, bloating, gas, nausea and diarrhea.

Treatment Options

Although lactose intolerance isn't curable, there are over-the-counter tablets or drops that contain the lactase enzyme, which may help you in the digestion of dairy products.