Digestive disorders

Most diseases of the digestive system affect only part of the system. For example, diseases of the esophagus, mouth or intestines.

In the following sections, the most common symptoms from the digestive system will be reviewed.

(Diarrhea and vomiting are described in a separate section).

  • Symptoms

    Heartburn or acid regurgitation occurs due to acid problems which can also cause burning pain under the diaphragm. Acid problems are referred to in the technical language as reflux, which means backflow. In this context, it is acid from the stomach that flows the wrong way and enters the esophagus. The lining of the stomach tolerates the acid, while the lining of the esophagus is irritated. This triggers discomfort or pain, and frequent reflux can lead to an inflammatory condition of the mucous membrane. Reflux disorders are very common. 5-10 percent of the adult population have daily ailments with heartburn. The most common causes of acid reflux are reflux, stomach ulcers, indigestion and alcohol.

    Constipation is defined as slow, hard or infrequent bowel movements. The problem is widespread among older people and is three times as common among women as men. 20% of the population has constipation and 10% use laxatives.

    There are big differences when it comes to how often children have a bowel movement. Some can go to the bathroom several times a day, others once a week. Having stools very often or very rarely can be a sign of constipation. It is not uncommon for constipation to be associated with the child "pooping out" (encopresis).

    In many cases, one cannot point to clear causes of constipation. The most common explanations for constipation are irregular bowel habits, low-fiber diet, little physical activity, high drug use, laxative abuse and irritable bowel condition. Old age is not in itself a risk factor for constipation, but older people have several conditions that lead to constipation

    Visible blood in the stool
    Visible blood in the stool is typically caused by hemorrhoids, rupture of the rectal opening, infectious disease of the intestine (tourist diarrhea), polyps in the colon and less often other diseases.

    • Hemorrhoids can be the result of constipation, pregnancy, prolonged diarrhea, and a host of other causes. The condition is characterized by episodes of bleeding of bright red blood in connection with emptying of stools, it can splash beyond the inside of the toilet bowl, often long medical history, and you may have felt bullets in the rectum.
    • Fat formation in the rectal opening, anal fissure, is occasionally seen in young children, in women after childbirth, as a result of constipation or as a recurrent condition. A painful tear can typically be seen in the mucous membrane, many people feel "it cracks", and fresh blood is often seen on the outside of the stool.
    • Infectious disease of the intestine, tourist diarrhea, can cause tears and ulcers in the lining of the intestine which causes blood in the stool.
    • Polyps in the colon are usually asymptomatic, but large polyps can create a narrow area in the intestine, and they can sometimes bleed a little.

    Abdominal pain
    Abdominal pain is divided into acute and chronic (long-term).

    Acute abdominal pain should, as a general rule, be treated in the emergency room, as the causes can be serious and cannot be properly assessed by video. Especially with fever, severe pain, pregnancy or affected general condition.

    Recurrent abdominal pain is one of the most common symptoms children experience. The requirement for recurrent abdominal pain is that they occur three or more times during a three-month period, and interfere with the child's normal activities. In many children, it is due to disturbances in the function of the digestive system and only exceptionally physical illness. The discomfort can be caused by various mental or physical conditions.

    The diagnosis presupposes that the doctor rules out the presence of a physical (somatic) disease. When the doctor has ruled out an underlying disease that is causing the pain, the term functional abdominal pain is also used.

    It is not uncommon for adults at times to also experience recurrent abdominal pain. These should also be examined by a doctor, to rule out physical (somatic) illness.

  • What can I do myself?

    Over-the-counter antacids help with acid problems.
    The following lifestyle advice can help:

    • Avoid large, fatty, spicy or late meals. Be careful with coffee
    • Stop smoking
    • Raise the head end of the bed if you are bothered by a lot of nocturnal acid problems
    • If you are overweight, you should lose weight
    • Avoid tight-fitting clothing - it can reduce the tendency to reflux
    • Refrain from late and large evening meals. Do not eat for the last 3 hours before going to bed
    • Avoid foods that irritate the mucosa directly, e.g. citrus fruits, tomatoes, coffee, sour berries, soda
    • Constipation should be treated
    • Avoid working positions that require prolonged forward bending
    • Chewing gum causes increased ingestion of saliva and can be helpful for some
    • It is important to be examined by a doctor for persistent symptoms and malaise.

    The most important principles in treatment are regular bowel habits, a coarse and high-fiber diet, plenty of drink, regular exercise and, if necessary, the use of laxatives. The treatment must always be individualized and adapted to any underlying causes.

    Visible blood in the stool

    • Hemorrhoids are treated with a high-fiber diet and good toilet habits.
    • Tears in the rectal opening usually close on their own, but here too it is important that the stool becomes soft and that you do not have to use a lot of force to push it out.
    • In case of uncertainty about the diagnosis, you should be examined by a doctor. Not everything that bleeds in the rectum is hemorrhoids, which is why repeated bleeding indicates control by a doctor. New bleeding after the age of 40 should be examined by a doctor and intestinal bleeding with a feeling of illness indicates a doctor's visit soon. Acute, heavy bleeding requires immediate help.

    Abdominal pain
    If the doctor finds a physical illness, then of course it must be treated. If the doctor can rule out physical illness, the following will apply:

    Take the child seriously. It is often obvious to the parents that this is an innocent condition for which one does not need to seek medical attention. At other times, it is important for both the child and the parents to see a doctor for assessment. A thorough conversation with the doctor about the stomach ache, a medical examination where the doctor feels the stomach, perhaps some simple tests, will confirm if there is an underlying disease. For the vast majority, this is the only form of treatment needed. Medications have no place in the treatment of this type of recurrent abdominal pain. Some may experience relief by using so-called probiotics. There is no research that shows the effect of other dietary measures. The child should live as normally as possible and participate in all the activities that are common and desirable. Do not do any major number of pain attacks. If it gets too bad, the child can lie down for a while.

    Always consult a doctor if the symptoms change and the appetite becomes poor, in the absence of weight gain or in the case of weight loss, in case of abnormal weakness or in the case of blood in the stool.

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Reference: Norwegian Medical Handbook, NEL. Edited and medically quality assured by Dr. Theresa Franck, specialist in general medicine.