There are dozens of digestive diseases—some of which are acute and short-lasting, and others of which are chronic and long-lasting. Here are some of the most common digestive diseases.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
GERD occurs when stomach acid regularly flows back up into the esophagus to cause heartburn and irritation. GERD is generally characterized as mild acid reflux that occurs at least two times per week, or moderate to severe reflux that occurs at least once per week. Other symptoms of GERD include chest pain, difficulty swallowing, and the sensation of having a lump in the throat. GERD currently affects an estimated 20% of people in the U.S.
GERD is commonly treated using proton pump inhibitors and H2 blockers, both of which work by reducing acid levels to manage acid reflux. Severe cases of GERD may be treated using laparoscopic surgery, which can tighten loose muscles between the esophagus and stomach to prevent acid from flowing back upward.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
IBD is a term used to describe digestive disorders in which the digestive tract suffers from chronic inflammation. IBD includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease—both of which are characterized by symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, bloody stool, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain. IBD affects an estimated three million adults in the U.S.
IBD is commonly treated using immunosuppressants, anti-inflammatory drugs, and prescription steroids—all of which can help manage and reduce inflammation. Crohn’s disease may also be treated with antibiotics. Ulcerative colitis may be treated with surgery in which the colon is removed and patients must wear a colostomy bag to capture waste.
Gastritis is the term used to describe a group of conditions in which the lining of the stomach is affected by inflammation. Nausea, vomiting, indigestion, and a feeling of fullness in the upper part of the stomach are common symptoms of gastritis. One of the largest risk factors of gastritis is having a Helicobacter pylori bacterial infection.
Celiac disease is an immune reaction to eating a protein called gluten, which is commonly found in foods containing wheat, rye, and barley. In people with celiac disease, gluten triggers an immune response in the small intestine to cause symptoms including diarrhea, bloating, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Celiac disease affects an estimated 1 in 141 people in the U.S., and can ultimately result in the malabsorption of nutrients when left untreated.
At present, there are no treatments for celiac disease. However, this disease can be effectively managed by avoiding foods that contain gluten. Flare-ups may occur in the event a person with celiac disease accidentally eats gluten, which can often be safely managed by drinking plenty of water, getting plenty of rest, avoiding lactose, and taking nutritional supplements to prevent malabsorption.
Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas and can be either acute or chronic. People with acute pancreatitis may experience fever, abdominal pain, and rapid heart rate, while those with chronic pancreatitis may experience weight loss and have oily, smelly stools. When left untreated, pancreatitis can cause pancreatic cancer, which accounts for an estimated 3% of all cancers in the U.S. and about 7% of all cancer deaths.
Other common digestive diseases and conditions include:
- Barrett's esophagus
- Cyclic vomiting syndrome
- Diverticulosis and diverticulitis
- Dumping syndrome
- Lactose intolerance
- Ménétrier’s disease
- Stomach ulcer
- Zollinger-Ellison syndrome