Posts for category: GI Care
Understanding the Purpose of a Stool Softener vs. all Laxatives
A laxative defines any medicine that facilitates a bowel movement which includes a broad range designed to treat varying levels of severity. A stool softener is a mild (OTC) over-the-counter laxative used to soften the stool for easier passage and less strain. Its use is recommended for temporary, less chronic constipation. Stool softeners work naturally with the body and are better tolerated with fewer side effects. Stronger laxatives such as stimulant laxatives are more appropriate for more severe symptoms. Unlike stool softeners which merely add moisture to the stool to allow for easier movement, stimulant laxatives treat more acute and chronic constipation by directly stimulating nerves in the large intestine. They work faster to bring relief yet can cause side effects such as dehydration, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping.
Identify Your Symptoms First
It’s important to understand the symptoms and severity of your constipation before choosing a particular laxative. If you are suffering from symptoms such as abdominal bloating, rectal pain, and a frequency of fewer than three bowel movements per week, you may be a candidate for a stronger laxative. However, if you are experiencing temporary difficulty passing stool due to recent surgery, hemorrhoids, or other sensitivities, you may be better suited to taking stool softeners.
Your Diet and Doctor’s Advice
Before choosing a laxative, it is always important to practice some common measures before resorting to laxatives.
- Stay hydrated during the day
- Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and other fiber to promote a healthy colon.
- If an improvement in your diet is not relieving your symptoms, consult your physician.
- If you have been recommended to use a laxative, always follow the doctor’s instructions, or for over-the-counter medications, carefully read dosing directions.
- Whether taking stronger laxatives or milder ones such as stool softeners, either should not be taken long term unless approved by your physician.
While there are ulcers that can develop in the veins, mouth, and even genitals, we’re going to talk about digestive ulcers or peptic ulcers. Peptic ulcers are open sores that develop in the lining of the small intestines, but can also develop in the stomach or esophagus.
- Gastric ulcers that occur within the lining of the stomach
- Esophageal ulcers that occur within the esophagus
- Duodenal ulcers that occur within the small intestines
Want to know whether your digestive issues could be due to an intestinal ulcer? The most common symptom of a GI ulcer is burning or gnawing pain in the stomach. Other symptoms include:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Chest pain
- Feeling full easily
Ulcers often form when there is damage to the lining of the GI tract. This may result from taking certain medication such as NSAIDs or a bacterial infection (H. pylori). If you are someone who takes painkillers regularly this is something to discuss with your gastroenterologist.
In most cases, your gastroenterologist will prescribe medication that reduces how much acid the stomach produces, giving the stomach lining enough time to properly heal. Common medications include proton pump inhibitors and h2-receptor antagonists. If a bacterial infection is the culprit, then antibiotics will be prescribed to kill the infection.
Everyone’s different when it comes to how often they have a bowel movement. Some people go three times a day while others only go three times a week, and both are normal; however, if you are having less than three bowel movements a week then you are considered constipated. If stools are dry or hard to pass, these are also signs of constipation.
While laxatives are often the first thing people try when it comes to treating their constipation you may want to hold off on those for the time being and try these simple hacks:
- Make sure that you are staying hydrated (drinking enough water is key!)
- Get regular exercise
- Increase your fiber intake
If you’ve tried the lifestyle and dietary changes above and your bowels still aren’t moving, then you may be considering a laxative at this point. There are different types; however, it’s important to know which ones to use. Fiber supplements are often the easiest on the body (this includes products like Metamucil). Before purchasing laxatives, it’s a good idea to talk with your GI doctor about which one is right for you. Since people can become dependent on laxatives, you must speak with your gastroenterologist if you find yourself regularly dealing with constipation that can only be alleviated by using laxatives.
While there are many over-the-counter laxatives on the market that can help with occasional constipation, it’s also important to know when to see your gastroenterologist instead. You should consult with your doctor if,
- You haven’t had a bowel movement in more than three days
- You are using laxatives for a week but are still dealing with constipation
- Your constipation is accompanied by bloody stools, abdominal pain, or dizziness
- You are pregnant or breastfeeding
- You are unexpectedly and suddenly losing weight
Here are some ways in which ginger could help your gut.
It Could Aid in Digestion
Whether your stomach is upset upon waking or you just tried a more adventurous dish at a new restaurant, there are many reasons why your stomach might be feeling a little unhappy. Fortunately, ginger can be a helpful and natural remedy to ease that upset stomach.
How? Ginger is believed to speed up the movement of food through the GI tract, while also protecting the gut. It may also ease bloating, cramping, and gas. If you are dealing with an upset stomach, you may want to boil some fresh ginger or add a little ground ginger to some hot water.
It May Protect Against Heartburn
If you find yourself dealing with that gnawing, burning in your chest, ginger may also keep these problems at bay (or, at the very least, alleviate them). Ginger doesn’t just boost motility of the intestinal tract, it may also protect the gastric lining while reducing stomach acid from flowing back up the esophagus after meals.
It Stops Bloat
Most people will experience bloating at some point, particularly after eating. Whether from overheating or from food intolerance, bloating could be alleviated by drinking ginger tea or eating dried ginger. Indigestion is one of the top reasons for bloating, and ginger has the ability to reduce indigestion, which in turn can stop bloat from happening in the first place. People who are prone to bloating may want to add ground ginger to their morning cup of tea or water to prevent this problem from happening during the day.
It’s important not to ignore ongoing stomach problems. If abdominal pain and cramping, or other intestinal problems keep plaguing you, then it’s time to see a gastroenterologist to find out what’s going on. While natural remedies such as ginger can be helpful for minor and fleeting bouts of nausea and an upset stomach, they won’t be able to treat more serious stomach issues.
You’re Experiencing Digestive Issues
This is a common reason why a colonoscopy is performed. It’s not always possible to figure out the cause of rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, or other intestinal issues unless a GI doctor takes a look inside. If your issues can’t be diagnosed with a simple physical examination, blood test, or stool sample, then a colonoscopy is probably the best way to find out what’s going on.
You Need to Be Screened for Colorectal Cancer
If you are 50 years old or older and are at average risk for colon cancer, then your gastroenterologist will often advise you to get a colonoscopy about every 10 years to screen for cancer. Those with an increased risk of developing colon cancer may need to get screened more regularly. Risk factors for colorectal cancer include,
- Family history of colon cancer
- Personal history of colon polyps
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- An unhealthy diet that is high in fat and processed foods
- Leading an inactive lifestyle
It’s necessary to remove polyps right away to reduce your chances of developing colon cancer. Colon polyps can be easily removed during a routine colonoscopy, but since it can increase your risk for colorectal cancer your gastroenterologist may recommend having a colonoscopy more regularly.
If you just turned 50 years old and it’s time to schedule your routine colonoscopy, or if you’re dealing with digestive issues, a gastroenterologist is the ideal medical specialist to turn to. Don’t wait to get the preventive care you need to protect against colorectal cancer.
no longer contract to push food along. If you or someone you know has achalasia, a gastroenterologist can provide you with ways to manage your symptoms.
What are the symptoms and signs?
The most common signs of achalasia include,
- Difficulty swallowing
- Regurgitation of food
- Choking (often during regurgitation)
- Chest discomfort, particularly after eating
How is achalasia treated?
Achalasia requires treatment to prevent the condition from getting worse. As you might imagine, not being able to properly eat or drink anything can have detrimental effects on a person’s health and nutritional needs, as well as increase a person’s risk for aspirational pneumonia and lung infections (this is more common in seniors). Common treatment options include:
- Surgery: Traditional surgery, known as Heller myotomy, is the most common way to treat achalasia and it involves cutting the muscles of the valves that lie between the stomach and esophagus. Some patients may be candidates for laparoscopic surgery, which is a more minimally invasive technique.
- Balloon dilation: For patients who may not be able to undergo surgery, another way to treat achalasia is with balloon dilation, which is a non-surgical technique performed under moderate sedation where a balloon is placed into the esophagus and inflated to widen the area so food can easier go from the esophagus into the stomach.
- Botox: Botox may help to relax muscle spasms and to improve how food flows through the esophagus. Those patients who aren’t candidates for surgery or dilation may want to consider the benefits of Botox.
Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a chronic bowel disease that causes flare-ups of inflammation and bleeding ulcers in the colon and rectum, which can affect your ability to digest food. Ulcerative colitis is one of the two main types of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).
Are you dealing with unexplained and persistent stomach pains accompanied by diarrhea? This can be an early warning sign that UC. In the very beginning, you may notice minor symptom flare-ups that can easily be attributed to a variety of other problems. So, it isn’t always easy to spot the signs of UC right away.
- Joint pain
- Sores and rashes
While there is no cure for ulcerative colitis, your gastroenterologist can prescribe medications, therapies or surgery, and recommend lifestyle changes that can help with symptom remission and reduce the number and severity of flare-ups. Treatment plans for UC typically include,
- Anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids
- Immunosuppressants reduce inflammation by suppressing the immune system
- Biologics, which also act on the immune system
- Pain relievers
- Dietary changes (eliminating gluten and dairy; limiting fiber intake)
- Stress management techniques
- Supplementation (iron may be prescribed if you have anemia caused by UC)
- Anti-diarrheal medications
- Surgery to remove the colon and rectum (in more severe cases)
If you’re dealing with heartburn, one of the first things your gastroenterologist will examine is your diet. While certain foods can exacerbate heartburn and make it worse, certain foods can improve and ease acid reflux symptoms. Some of these foods include:
Foods that are high in fiber such as oatmeal aren’t just amazing for your digestive tract, they may also prevent heartburn from brewing in the first place. Plus, whole grain foods can help satiate your appetite for longer, which means that you are less likely to go for snacks and other foods that could cause a nasty bout of acid reflux. So, start your morning right with a hearty bowl of oatmeal. And perhaps you may even want to add a….
Just like vegetables, a banana is a low-acid and high alkaline fruit that is also great for the digestive tract. If you battle with heartburn, bananas can help prevent stomach acid production while also helping things run smoothly through the digestive system.
Whether you prefer ginger sprinkled into your morning smoothie, a soothing cup of ginger tea or fresh ginger grated into your water, this magical vegetable reduces inflammation and can aid in preventing and treating heartburn as well as calm an upset stomach and ease nausea.
Leafy Greens and Veggies
Fibrous vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, potatoes, and asparagus are alkaline, which helps to keep stomach acid in check. This is also because these delicious and nutritious foods are low in sugar and fat, which means they are friends to those with heartburn.
We all know that yogurt has amazing probiotic properties, providing your gut with the good bacteria it needs to stay healthy and strong. Good bacteria can also improve how your immune system functions, staving off germs and infections, while also coating and easing stomach acid.
Whether you have questions about your current heartburn-friendly diet or you’re having trouble getting your acid reflux under control, a gastroenterologist will be able to provide you with proper long-term medication and lifestyle changes that can help.
You may benefit from a colonoscopy if:
- You are a man or woman over the age of 50 (those over 50 years old are at an increased risk for colorectal cancer)
- You have a family history of colorectal cancer or colon polyps
- You have a personal history of cancer or colon polyps
- You’ve been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease)
- You are experiencing symptoms of colorectal cancer such as blood in the stool and unexpected weight loss
- You are experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms such as rectal bleeding and abdominal pain (a colonoscopy can diagnose certain intestinal problems)
You will be placed under conscious sedation while undergoing a colonoscopy, so you will most likely not remember any part of your procedure. During the procedure, your gastroenterologist will carefully place a colonoscope, a thin tube with a camera at the end, into the rectum, and guide it into the large intestines (aka the colon). This procedure allows your doctor to be able to examine the lining of the intestines to look for polyps, bleeds, ulcers, or other issues you may be dealing with. If polyps are found, they can be removed during your colonoscopy.
While age, ethnicity, and gender can play a role in your colorectal cancer risk level, there are other factors as well; however, these factors can be altered by simply improving your lifestyle. These factors include:
- Smoking or using tobacco products
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle
- Eating a poor diet that is high in processed foods
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Certain medications
- Lack of exercise
- Excessive amounts of dairy products, including cheese and milk
- Not going to the toilet frequently enough
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Abusing laxatives
- Changing your diet to include fiber
- Drinking plenty of water throughout the day to soften stool
- Staying as active as possible
- Switching routine medications (with your doctor's approval)
- Limited use of laxatives (enemas, glycerin suppositories, stimulant laxatives)
- Daily fiber supplements (psyllium or bran cereals) or stool softeners
- Greasy and fatty foods
- Spicy foods
7 Tips for Dealing With Indigestion
Suffering from indigestion? Most people have indigestion at some point in their lives. Indigestion, also called dyspepsia, is defined as a persistent or recurrent pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen. The symptoms of indigestion can include abdominal pain, gas, belching, nausea, vomiting, or burning in the upper abdomen or stomach. Here are 7 tips for dealing with indigestion.
1. Keep a food diary. The best way to treat indigestion is to prevent it by avoiding the foods that seem to cause indigestion. Keep a food diary to work out what drinks and foods are triggers for you. Writing down what you ate and the time you ate it can help you deduce what it is that’s causing your symptoms. When possible limit these triggers - common ones include chocolate, caffeine, and spicy food.
2. Eat less. Overeating and late-night meals are the top two triggers that affect many people with indigestion. Eating five small meals per day can help. Breaking down your daily food intake into five small meals makes lighter work for your digestive system. It’s also a good idea not to eat right before bed.
3. Eat slowly. It’s not just what you eat that can cause indigestion; it’s also how quickly you eat. Sit down when you eat your meals. Take your time, chew thoroughly, and give yourself at least 20 minutes before you carry on with your day. Try to avoid lying down too soon after eating.
4. Limit caffeine. If you drink too much caffeine, you may develop indigestion as a side effect. Cut back on your daily fix to see if that helps reduce your symptoms. Caffeine affects your central nervous system and increases stomach acid production. According to Michigan State University, people who drink too much caffeine can develop abdominal pain, heartburn, diarrhea, belching, nausea, and vomiting.
5. Exercise. Exercise can help promote healthy digestion. A recent study shows that exercise can help reduce many digestive problems. In one study, scientists found a link between lack of exercise, obesity, abdominal pain, and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Regular cardiovascular exercise like walking and cycling also helps strengthen abdominal muscles. Don't exercise with a full stomach. Do it before a meal or at least one hour after you eat.
6. Beware of air. Swallowing too much air while eating can cause indigestion. You can help avoid that by chewing with your mouth closed and talking less while eating. You may need to avoid sucking on hard candy or chewing gum, which can lower the amount of air you swallow. If heartburn or acid reflux makes you swallow more frequently, antacids may help.
7. See your doctor. If your indigestion lasts longer than 2 weeks, you should see a gasterontologist. Treatment for indigestion depends on the cause and may include lifestyle changes, medications, and psychological therapies. If stress is causing your symptoms, your doctor may recommend ways to help you reduce your stress, such as relaxation exercises, meditation, or counseling.
Indigestion can significantly diminish your quality of life. Stand up to indigestion and start enjoying life again. Find a board certified gastroenterologist near you and schedule a consultation. Treatment for indigestion will ease your pain and help you get back to a happy and healthy life!
One of the most effective screening methods for detecting the earliest signs of colorectal cancer is through a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy allows a gastroenterologist to be able to examine the lining of the rectum and colon (lower intestines) to look for precancerous polyps and other warning signs. These precancerous polyps can also be removed during a colonoscopy before they have the chance to develop into cancer. This is why colon cancer screenings are so important.
Who should get regular colon cancer screenings?
Men and women who are between the ages of 45 and 75 should see their gastroenterologist for regular colon cancer screenings. While there are other methods for screening for colon cancer (e.g. stool test; flexible sigmoidoscopy) a colonoscopy is the most effective and accurate screening tool available.
If a patient has never had polyps or other precancerous warning signs they may not need to get further colorectal cancer screenings after age 75. Patients with risk factors may require additional routine screenings after the age of 75.
Of course sometimes it’s necessary to get a colon cancer screening before 45 years old. You may benefit from getting tested earlier if:
- You or an immediate family member has a history of colorectal polyps or colon cancer
- You’ve been diagnosed with an inflammatory bowel disease (e.g. Crohn’s disease; ulcerative colitis)
- You lead an inactive, sedentary lifestyle
- You have a poor diet that is high in fat and low in fiber
- You’ve been diagnosed with diabetes
- You are obese
- You are a heavy alcohol consumer
- You are a smoker
- You’ve undergone radiation therapy to treat cancer
If you have any risk factors it’s important that you talk with your gastroenterologist to find out when you should start getting regular screenings and which screening is right for you based on your health coverage.
What should I expect from a colorectal cancer screening?
As we mentioned, the most common screening tool for colon cancer is a colonoscopy. During this procedure we will insert a thin flexible tube (called an endoscope) into the rectum and gently guide it through the large intestines. At the end of this endoscope is a camera. This camera will allow your GI doctor to look for polyps and other problem. If polyps are found they can be removed during your colonoscopy. If nothing is found during your diagnostic testing, a colonoscopy can take as little as 30 minutes. The patient will be under the effects of conscious sedation throughout the procedure.
Do you have questions about getting a colonoscopy? Is it time to schedule your first routine colon cancer screening? If so, then call your intestinal doctor today.
Diverticulitis is a condition in which small pouches or sacs called diverticula form in the large intestine, or colon, and become inflamed. When the sacs are inflamed, they can bulge outward and cause abdominal pain and discomfort. In addition to abdominal pain, several other symptoms can be associated with diverticulitis. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with this condition, see a gastroenterologist for a diagnosis and possible treatment options.
Symptoms & Causes
The exact cause of diverticulitis is unclear. However, there seems to be a link between a diet too low in fiber and the development of diverticulitis. When fiber is lacking in the diet, the colon works harder to move stools through the intestinal tract. It is possible that the pressure from the increased effort to move the stool can lead to the formation of diverticula along the interior of the color or large intestine. Maintaining a diet with sufficient fiber intake can potentially help prevent diverticulitis.
Various symptoms can be associated with diverticulitis. Abdominal pain is a common symptom and tends to be felt primarily on the left side. Other symptoms associated with diverticulitis include:
- abdominal pain
A variety of options are available for treating diverticulitis. For less severe cases, a combination of antibiotics, pain relievers and a liquid diet can be sufficient to resolve the diverticulitis. More serious cases of diverticulitis in which patients cannot drink liquids can require a hospital stay. While in the hospital, all nutrition will be obtained intravenously. Avoiding eating and drinking by mouth gives the bowel time to rest and recover and can help clear up the diverticulitis. If the condition is still severe, surgery might be required.
Diverticulitis can result in a lot of pain and discomfort. Fortunately, there are treatments that can provide relief. See a gastroenterologist for diagnosis and a treatment plan.
What is a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy?
A flexible sigmoidoscopy is a critical diagnostic tool to evaluate the health of your large intestine, or colon. An ultra-thin, flexible tube called a sigmoidoscope is inserted in the rectum and guided up through the intestine.
The tube contains a tiny camera at the end which provides the doctor with a view of your sigmoid colon, which is the last two feet of the large intestine. The sigmoidoscope also allows the doctor to take samples of tissue for later biopsy. Tissue biopsy is the definitive way to determine whether there are precancerous or cancerous changes in your tissue cells.
The sigmoidoscopy procedure is often combined with a colonoscopy because the sigmoidoscope doesn’t show the entire colon, only the lower portion. Sigmoidoscopy may be recommended over colonoscopy because it often doesn’t require anesthesia and is a faster procedure than colonoscopy.
A flexible sigmoidoscopy can be used to determine the cause of intestinal problems like abdominal pain and bowel issues like diarrhea and constipation. It is also used to look for abnormal growths or polyps. It is also a vital tool to screen for colon and rectal cancer.
Flexible sigmoidoscopy may be recommended if you are over 50 years old to help detect colon and rectal cancer in the early stages, when it is the most treatable. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Each year, about 150,000 new cases are diagnosed in this country, and 50,000 people will die of the disease.
The flexible sigmoidoscopy procedure is a safe, effective way to determine the health of your sigmoid colon. It is a vital tool in maintaining your good health. If you are having abdominal issues, or you are at least 50 years old, a flexible sigmoidoscopy can help you. Your doctor can tell you more about flexible sigmoidoscopy and other procedures to help you feel better.
If you’ve been dealing with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and you have either been ignoring your symptoms or haven’t been able to get them under control then you could end up dealing with Barrett’s esophagus, a serious complication of GERD that causes the lining of the esophagus to mimic the lining of the intestines.
There are no unique symptoms associated with Barrett’s esophagus, as many of the symptoms are the same as they are for GERD; however, a reason that patients shouldn’t ignore symptoms of GERD is that Barrett’s esophagus can increase the likelihood of developing an extremely serious and life-threatening cancer of the esophagus.
Symptoms to be on the look out for include:
- A burning sensation in the back of the throat
- Persistent cough
Even though Barrett’s esophagus is not a common complication of acid reflux, if someone experiences persistent acid reflux this can alter the cells within the esophagus over time to resemble the cells found in the lining of the intestines.
You may be screened with Barrett’s esophagus if you have some of these risk factors:
- Over 50 years old
- Hiatal hernia
- Chronic GERD
- Obesity or being overweight
A gastroenterologist will guide a small flexible tube, known as an endoscope, into the throat and down into the esophagus. This is performed under light sedation. At the end of the endoscope is a camera that allows a gastroenterology doctor to take a biopsy of the lining of the esophagus.
The biopsy sample will be tested for cancer or any precancerous cells. If Barrett’s esophagus is detected in the sample, further endoscopies may be required in the future to detect early warning signs of cancer.
Treating Barrett’s Esophagus
While this condition cannot be reversed there are ways to at least slow down or even prevent the condition from getting worse by getting your acid reflux under control. This can be done through a variety of lifestyle changes (e.g. quitting smoking; changing diet; losing weight) and either over-the-counter or prescription medications (e.g. H2 blockers; proton pump inhibitors).
If you are dealing with acid reflux a few times a week then it’s time to turn to a gastroenterologist for more information. By getting your GERD under control as soon as possible you could prevent complications such as Barrett’s esophagus. Call your gastroenterologist today.
Peptic ulcers, or stomach ulcers, are breaks or holes in the lining of the stomach. An ulcer in the first part of the intestines is known as a duodenal ulcer. An ulcer in the stomach is known as a gastric ulcer. If you think you may have an ulcer, you should see a gastroenterologist. Gastroenterologists are specialists in the diagnosis and treatment of peptic ulcers. Here are 5 signs you may have a peptic ulcer.
1. Burning pain- The most common peptic ulcer symptom is a burning sensation or gnawing pain in the middle of your abdomen. The pain may come and go for several days or weeks. Even though discomfort may be mild, peptic ulcers can worsen if they aren’t treated. Taking antacids can relieve the discomfort, but it will keep coming back until the peptic ulcer is treated by a doctor.
2. Nausea- The symptoms of peptic ulcers may include nausea. Nausea is a feeling of sickness with an inclination to vomit. Nausea has many possible causes. Some common causes of nausea include appendicitis, infection, reactions to some medicines, migraines, food poisoning or intestinal blockage.
3. Vomiting- The symptoms of peptic ulcers may include vomiting. Vomiting after consumption of food may be caused by an ulcer, food poisoning, or gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining). Usually, vomiting is harmless, but it can be a sign of a serious condition. Some examples of serious conditions that may result in vomiting include Acute liver failure, appendicitis, Pancreatic cancer, or intestinal blockage.
4. Discolored stool- Blood in the stool is often a sign of a problem in the digestive tract. Blood in the stool may come from any area along your digestive tract. A stomach ulcer can cause discolored stools that appear darker or bloody. A bloody stool may indicate that your stomach ulcer is growing in size or is becoming more severe.
5. Heartburn- Another symptom of peptic ulcers is heartburn. Heartburn is a condition that's caused when stomach acid flows up into your esophagus. This leads to a burning discomfort below your breastbone or in your upper belly. Your doctor will prescribe medications to relieve your symptoms and help your ulcer heal.
If you have any of these signs and symptoms, you should seek treatment. A visit to the gastroenterologist will bring the relief you need. Peptic ulcers can not only be uncomfortable causing you pain but can also lead to other complications that may be dangerous.
Though many people never know they have one due to lack of symptoms, a hiatal hernia can cause complications which can affect your daily life. Knowing the signs and symptoms of this condition can help you spot its presence, alert your gastroenterologist, and get the treatment you need.
What is a hiatal hernia?
Your chest and abdomen are separated by a large muscle called the diaphragm. The esophagus passes through a small opening in the diaphragm and brings food from the mouth, down the throat, and into the stomach. A hiatal hernia occurs when the stomach pushes through the hole and begins bulging out of the other side, into the chest. Though small hiatal hernias are often nothing to worry about and do not produce symptoms, larger hernias may cause potentially serious complications.
Do I have a hiatal hernia?
A small hernia often does not produce any symptoms at all. However, larger hernias can cause some issues that can affect your day-to-day life:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Chest or abdominal pain
- Regurgitation of foods (into the mouth)
- Acid reflux
- Vomiting blood or passing black stool
- Shortness of breath
If you think you have a hiatal hernia, you should see your doctor to ensure that you receive the care you need.
How does a gastroenterologist diagnose a hiatal hernia?
It is not uncommon for a gastroenterologist to find a hernia while investigating the cause of heartburn, abdominal pain, or other symptoms. Some diagnostic tools they may use include x-rays or upper endoscopy. They will also gather your medical, family, and lifestyle history to further investigate the cause of your symptoms.
Hiatal Hernia Treatments
If a person with a hernia does not experience any symptoms or complications, they may not need any treatment at all. However, if the patient begins experiencing discomfort, their doctor will probably suggest beginning treatment for their condition. Medications, such as antacids or medication to reduce the body’s acid production, can help with symptoms of a hernia. In more severe cases, a surgical procedure to repair a hernia or make the hole in the diaphragm smaller may become necessary.
Your gastroenterologist can help you find the best treatment plan for you. If you think you have a hernia or are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms such as recurrent acid reflux or heartburn, you should speak with your doctor.