Answers to Common Digestive Health Questions

Premier Physician Network’s doctors answer frequently asked questions about digestive health.

What are heartburn, acid reflux, and gastroesophageal reflux?

Dr. Lowry discusses heartburn and types of reflux. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Types of indigestion are often called by the wrong names when talked about. Though they can be related, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), acid reflux, and heartburn are all different issues.

GERD causes the contents of the stomach to leak backward into the esophagus – the tube the goes from the mouth to the stomach, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH). This happens when the lower part of the esophagus does not close correctly.

The most common symptoms of GERD, according to the NIH, include:

  • Burning pain in the chest
  • Feeling like food is stuck in the chest, behind the breastbone
  • Nausea after eating

These symptoms usually get worse when you bend over or lie down, according to the NIH.

Acid reflux is when stomach acid that goes backward from the stomach touches the lining of the esophagus, according to the NIH. The acid causes a burning feeling in the chest or throat.

Heartburn is the burning feeling in the chest or throat that is caused by acid reflux. Sometimes the acid can be tasted in the back of the mouth, according to the NIH.

It is normal to have occasional heartburn, according to the NIH, but if you have heartburn more than twice a week, it might be GERD or become a more serious issue.

For more information about any of these forms of indigestion, talk with your doctor.

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How does gastroesophageal reflux affect a person’s lifestyle or quality of life?

Dr. Lowry discusses how gastroesophageal reflux can affect a person’s quality of life. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can affect your quality of life and lifestyle in a variety of ways.

Aside from being uncomfortable because of the burning feeling it causes, GERD also can cause other issues, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH), including:

  • Asthma can get worse
  • Bronchospasm, which is an irritation and spasm of the airway because of acid
  • Changes to the esophageal lining that increases cancer risk
  • Chronic cough or hoarseness
  • Dental problems
  • Stricture, which is the narrowing of the esophagus because of scarring
  • Ulcers in the esophagus

Because GERD can be caused by lifestyle factors, sometimes lifestyle changes are needed to help improve the condition, according to the NIH.

Lifestyle factors that can cause GERD, include:

  • Alcohol use
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking
  • Use of some pain medications, including aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen

By making some lifestyle changes you can sometimes improve GERD issues. The NIH recommends:

  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese
  • Quit smoking
  • Take acetaminophen for pain relief, if needed

Your doctor might also recommend occasional use of over-the-counter antacids or over-the-counter or prescription drugs to help treat the GERD, according to the NIH.

Talk with your doctor for more information about how GERD can affect your lifestyle and quality of life.

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At what point should a patient seek medical attention for acid reflux or heartburn?

Dr. Lowry discusses when to seek medical attention for acid reflux or heartburn. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Occasional acid reflux and heartburn can usually be settled with over-the-counter medication, but more frequent issues and more serious symptoms could call for medical attention.

If you are still having heartburn or acid reflux after two weeks of taking over-the-counter medication, you should plan a visit with your doctor, according to the American Academy of Family PhysiciansOff Site Icon (AAFP).

The NIH also recommends contacting your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Black or bloody stools
  • Blood in vomit
  • Painful swallowing
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Unplanned weight loss

Also, if you have chest pain that you would usually associate with heartburn, but it is severe or goes along with shortness of breath, dizziness or arm pain, you could be having a heart attack and should call 911 for emergency care, according to the AAFP.

If you are concerned about reflux or heartburn symptoms, talk with your doctor.

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Does surgery cure gastroesophageal reflux?

Dr. Lowry discusses surgery and gastroesophageal reflux. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

There is a surgical option to help people suffering from gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), but the surgery isn’t always a cure.

Though the anti-reflux surgery should help improve heartburn and other GERD symptoms, some people do still have to take over-the-counter and prescription heartburn drugs after surgery, according to the NIH.

Some patients also need another surgery in the future if new reflux symptoms or swallowing problems happen as a side effect of the first surgery, according to the NIH.

Talk with your doctor for more information about surgery for GERD.

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What is irritable bowel syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that affects the large intestine, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH). It causes a variety of symptoms that all act up together, including abdominal pain, cramping, and bloating.

IBS also can cause constipation, diarrhea, or alternate between the two, according to the NIH.

This common condition occurs more often in women than in men. Though it is very painful, it does not damage the intestines.

For more information about irritable bowel syndrome, talk with your doctor.

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How or why does a person develop irritable bowel syndrome?

It is not completely understood how or why a person develops irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH). 

Some possible factors that could lead to IBS, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal DisordersOff Site Icon(IFFGD), include genetics or someone’s medical history, including certain infections or trauma.

For more information about how a person develops irritable bowel syndrome, talk with your doctor.

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What lifestyle changes can improve irritable bowel syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that doesn’t have a cure, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon(NIH). 

But, patients can learn to manage the symptoms with a variety of lifestyle changes. Those changes, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal DisordersOff Site Icon(IFFGD), could include changing your diet and relieving stress.

For more information about lifestyle changes that can improve irritable bowel syndrome, talk with your doctor.

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What is diverticulitis?

Dr. Abboud discusses diverticulitis. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Some people have a condition called diverticulosis. With this condition, small pouches – called diverticula – bulge outward through the colon, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH).

If these pouches become inflamed or infected, it is called diverticulitis, according to the NIH.

The most common symptom of diverticulitis is pain in the lower left part of the abdomen, according to Premier Physician Network (PPN) physicians.

Diverticulitis also can cause a fever, nausea, vomiting, chills, cramping, and constipation, according to the NIH.

For most people, diverticulitis is acute, meaning it was a sudden attack that causes pain to the patient, according to PPN physicians.

A small number of people develop chronic diverticular disease, with which they have a low-grade fever and mild, ongoing discomfort in the abdomen, according to PPN physicians.

For more information about diverticulitis, talk with your doctor.

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What causes diverticulitis?

Dr. Abboud discusses causes of diverticulitis. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

The exact cause of diverticulitis is not known, but it is believed the main cause is likely a low-fiber diet, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH).

There is a belief that people with diverticulitis should avoid eating seeds, nuts, popcorn, and more, but that is a misconception, according to Premier Physician Network (PPN) physicians.

Talk to your doctor for more information about causes of diverticulitis.

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How is diverticulitis diagnosed and treated?

Dr. Abboud discusses the diagnosis and treatment of diverticulitis. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

When someone has symptoms of diverticulitis, it can be diagnosed during a doctor’s visit, according to Premier Physician Network (PPN) physicians.

The doctor can feel the abdomen, and where it is tender there is usually diverticulitis, according to PPN physicians. A CT scan of the abdomen is usually done to confirm diverticulitis.

Treatment can include antibiotics, pain relievers, and a liquid diet, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH). Serious cases might need a hospital stay or surgery to treat.

Talk with your doctor for more information about diagnosis and treatment of diverticulitis.

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What is gut bacteria – or microbiota?

Dr. Marcus Washington discusses gut bacteria. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Microbiota – also known as gut bacteria – is the bacteria that lives inside our intestines, according to Premier Physician Network (PPN) physicians.

For more information about what gut bacteria is, talk with your doctor.

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How can an unhealthy bacteria balance present itself in a person’s health?

Dr. Marcus Washington discusses how unhealthy bacteria presents itself. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Bacteria that lives in our gut plays a major role in our immune system, our digestion and our bowel movements, Premier Physician Network (PPN) physicians say.

When we have an unhealthy balance in our gut bacteria, it can present itself by causing the body to have diarrhea, constipation, and a lower immunity to stomach viruses.

Talk to your doctor for more information about how unhealthy gut bacteria can present itself.

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What are probiotics, and how can they help gut bacteria?

Dr. Marcus Washington discusses probiotics and how they help gut bacteria. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Probiotics are live microorganisms – including bacteria and yeasts – that are found in your intestines, according to the American Academy of Family PhysiciansOff Site Icon (AAFP).

Probiotics like the ones in our bodies can be found in some foods and dietary supplements. It is believed that these microorganisms can help you keep your digestive system healthy by limiting the amount of bad bacteria able to grow there.

For more information about probiotics and how they help gut bacteria, talk with your doctor.

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What are steps a person can take to ensure healthy gut bacteria?

Dr. Marcus Washington discusses steps you can take for healthy gut bacteria. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

There are a few steps you can take to work toward having healthy gut bacteria.

One thing you can do is take probiotics, either as a supplement or through foods you choose to eat, Premier Physician Network (PPN) physicians say.

The next thing you can do is choose what you eat and drink carefully. Drinking too much alcohol and eating greasy, unhealthy foods can have a negative effect on the balance of gut bacteria.

Taking too many antibiotics or taking antibiotics when you don’t really need them can also throw off the balance of bacteria in your gut. Avoid taking antibiotics unless you really need them to kick your sickness.

For more information about steps you can take to keep your gut bacteria healthy, talk with your doctor.

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Thanks to these Premier Physician Network’s doctors for answering these common questions about digestive health:

Additional Resources

This website provides general medical information that should be used for informative and educational purposes only. Information found here should not be used as a substitute for the personal, professional medical advice of your physician. Do not begin any course of treatment without consulting a physician.

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