Many digestive diseases have similar symptoms. Here’s how to recognize them and when to see your doctor.

Most people don’t like to talk about it, but digestive issues are more common than you might think.

Here’s an overview of nine of the most common digestive diseases, their symptoms, and the most effective treatments available. If you think you have any of these problems, don’t wait to tell your doctor.

1. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

When stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, a condition called acid reflux, you may feel a burning pain in the middle of your chest. This often happens after meals or at night. While it’s common to suffer from acid reflux and heartburn from time to time, symptoms that affect your daily life or occur at least twice a week could be a sign of GERD, a digestive condition chronic that affects 20% of people. If you suffer from persistent heartburn, bad breath, unexplained tooth erosion, nausea, chest or upper abdominal pain, or if you have difficulty swallowing or breathing, consult your doctor.

Most people find relief by avoiding certain foods and beverages that trigger their symptoms, or by taking over-the-counter antacids or other medications that reduce stomach acid production and inflammation of the esophagus. Lifestyle changes, such as raising the head of the bed, not lying down after a meal, and quitting smoking can also help. However, some cases of GERD require stronger treatment, such as acid-blocking medications or even surgery.

2. Gallstones

Gallstones are hard deposits that form in the gallbladder, a small pear-shaped sac that stores and secretes bile needed for digestion. Gallstones can occur when the substances that make up bile (usually cholesterol or a waste product called bilirubin) become too concentrated and form a hard stone. When gallstones block the ducts leading from the gallbladder to the intestines, they can cause sharp pain in the upper right part of the abdomen. The next step is usually surgery to remove the gallbladder.

3. Celiac disease and gluten intolerance

Celiac disease is an immune reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. If you eat gluten, your immune system attacks: It damages the villi, those finger-like growths in the small intestine that help you absorb nutrients from the food you eat. In children, symptoms may include abdominal pain and bloating, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, and weight loss. In adults, symptoms can also include anemia, fatigue, bone loss, depression, and seizures. The only treatment for celiac disease is to completely avoid eating gluten. Common gluten substitutes are brown rice, quinoa, lentils, soy flour, corn flour, and amaranth.

Some people may test negative for celiac disease but have an intolerance or sensitivity to gluten. Some of the symptoms of celiac disease can occur, but gluten intolerance is a digestive disorder, not an immune disorder, so it doesn’t damage the gut and cause problems like anemia or bone loss. Additionally, people with gluten intolerance can eat gluten, if they are prepared to deal with the digestive symptoms.

4. Crohn’s disease

Crohn’s disease is one of a group of digestive conditions called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive tract, but it most commonly affects the terminal ileum and large intestine, which connects the end of the small intestine to the beginning of the large intestine, or colon.

Doctors aren’t sure what causes the condition, but it’s thought genetics and family history may play a role. The most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease are abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, weight loss and fever. Treatment depends on symptoms and may include topical pain relievers, immunosuppressants, and surgery.

5. Ulcerative colitis

The symptoms of ulcerative colitis are similar to those of Crohn’s disease, but the part of the digestive tract affected is only the colon. If your immune system mistakes the colon lining or other materials for invaders, sores or ulcers develop in the colon lining. If you have frequent and urgent bowel movements, pain during diarrhea, blood in the stool, or abdominal cramps, see your doctor. Medications can suppress inflammation, and eliminating foods that cause discomfort can also help. In severe cases, treatment for ulcerative colitis may involve surgery to remove the colon.

6. Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Is your digestive tract irritable? Do you have stomach pain or discomfort at least three times a month for several months? It could be irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The causes of IBS are not known, but treating symptoms is largely based on diet, which includes eating low-fat, high-fiber meals and avoiding common trigger foods (dairy, alcohol, caffeine , artificial sweeteners and foods that produce gas). Following the low-FODMAP diet, which involves eliminating foods high in certain carbohydrates (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols), has been found to reduce symptoms of IBS. In a 2021 review published in the European Journal of Nutrition, researchers analyzed 12 papers and found that the low-FODMAP diet reduced symptoms and improved quality of life for people with IBS compared to control diets. But keep in mind that a low FODMAP diet doesn’t necessarily mean low fiber.

Some research suggests that probiotics, or friendly bacteria found in certain foods like yogurt and sold as supplements, can help fight IBS. In a 2019 review published in the journal Nutrients, seven of 11 included studies reported that probiotic supplements significantly improved IBS symptoms compared to placebo. However, the American Gastroenterological Association makes no recommendations on the use of probiotics for IBS, indicating that more scientific evidence is needed.

7. Hemorrhoids

If there is bright red blood in the toilet bowl when you have a bowel movement, it may be a sign of hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids are swollen veins located in the anus or lower rectum that can be painful and itchy. They can be caused by chronic constipation, diarrhea, straining to have a bowel movement, and a lack of fiber in your diet.

To treat hemorrhoids, you need to eat more fiber, drink more water and exercise. Home treatments, such as over-the-counter creams and suppositories, usually relieve hemorrhoid symptoms. But if symptoms persist, prescription medications may be used or a medical procedure like hemorrhoidectomy may be needed to surgically remove the hemorrhoids.

8. Diverticulitis

Small pockets called diverticula can form anywhere there are weak spots in the wall of your digestive tract, but they are most commonly found in the colon. If you have diverticula but no symptoms, it is diverticulosis, which is quite common in older people and rarely causes problems. By the age of 50, about half of people have diverticulosis. But in about 5% of people, the pockets become inflamed or infected, a condition called diverticulitis. Symptoms include fever, chills, nausea, and abdominal pain. Obesity is a major risk factor for diverticulitis.

Mild diverticulitis is treated with a clear liquid diet so the colon can heal. In the past, the first line of treatment for uncomplicated diverticulitis was a course of antibiotics, but now it is believed that most cases can be treated without this medication. A low-fiber diet can cause diverticulitis. Your doctor may therefore recommend a high fiber diet (whole grains, legumes, vegetables) as part of your treatment plan. Cases of complicated diverticulitis are usually treated with intravenous antibiotics and may require surgery. If you have severe attacks that recur frequently, you may need surgery to remove the diseased part of your colon.

9. Anal fissure

Anal fissures are tiny, oval-shaped tears located in the wall of the anus. Symptoms are similar to those of hemorrhoids, such as bleeding and pain after passing stool. Straining and hard stools can cause cracking, but also loose stools and diarrhea. A high-fiber diet that makes stools well-formed and bulky is often the best treatment. Medications to relax the anal sphincter muscles, as well as topical anesthetics and sitz baths, can relieve pain. However, chronic fissures may require anal sphincter muscle surgery.

* criptom strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the opinion of a health professional.