Common Gastrointestinal Diseases: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

GERD is a digestive condition that occurs when the muscle at the end of the esophagus, called the esophagogastric junction, doesn’t close properly, allowing contents of the stomach to leak back into the esophagus.1,2 GERD is one of the most common digestive diseases worldwide, but is more prevalent in North America and Western Europe than South America, Eastern Europe, and Asia.3 GERD is a more severe form of acid reflux, also known as heartburn. While occasional heartburn is normal for most people, if you experience mild heartburn at least twice per week, or moderate-to-severe heartburn at least once per week, you should discuss this with your doctor.4 However, you can have GERD without feeling symptoms of heartburn at all, and instead experience asthma-like symptoms, difficulties swallowing, and/or a dry cough.5

Common Symptoms                                                                            

  • A burning sensation in the chest, often after meals or at night
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Regurgitation of food or sour liquid
  • Sensation of a lump in your throat

Lifestyle Management

• Sleep with your upper body elevated. To make this easier, you can purchase wedge-shaped “acid reflux pillows” online.
• Avoid eating at least two hours or less before bedtime.
• Lose weight, especially if you carry excess weight around your midsection, if necessary.
• Quit smoking!
• Limit consumption of citrus and other acidic foods, carbonated beverages, alcohol, high-fat foods, greasy food, fried food, meat, and dairy to only occasionally or in some cases not at all.
• Consume non-citrus fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich foods, whole grains, legumes, and/or fish.


Gastritis is one of the most common chronic conditions in the world and is characterized by inflammation of the protective lining of the stomach. The most common cause of gastritis occurs after the digestive system becomes infected with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria. Without antibiotic treatment, H. pylori gastritis can last for a lifetime and increase the risk of colon cancer. Another form of gastritis is caused when the stomach repeatedly comes in contact with an irritating substance, such as alcohol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., ibuprofen, aspirin). Because gastritis is commonly caused by a bacterial infection or contact with an irritant, diet and exercise are not effective management strategies for gastritis. However, other lifestyle modifications, such as quitting smoking or limiting or avoiding alcohol, are usually required during and after treatment. Once your doctor identifies the cause of the gastritis, treatment for this condition usually leads to a full recovery.7

Common Symptoms

While some people with gastritis remain symptom-free, common symptoms can include

• Discomfort in the upper abdomen • Nausea
• Vomiting
• Premature fullness during a meal • Excessive fullness after a meal

• Loss of appetite
• Unintentional weight loss.8

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

A person is diagnosed with IBS if they experience abdominal pain accompanied with bloating and either diarrhea, constipation, or a combination of both at least once per week for a duration of at least six months. IBS isn’t caused by and doesn’t lead to any observable physical damage to the digestive system.9

Doctors and researchers have yet to discover a definitive cause of IBS; however, some risk factors for IBS include

  • A family history of IBS
  • Stress or trauma in early life
  • Depression or anxiety
  • A history of bacterial infections in the digestive tract
  • Food intolerances or sensitivities that can cause digestive symptoms.10

Lifestyle management9

  • Increasing fiber intake is a traditional first-line treatment for IBS. However, research has shown that insoluble fiber, which

can be found in whole grains, nuts, vegetables, and fruits, can exacerbate IBS symptoms if consumed in excess. For people with IBS, consuming soluble fiber, which can be found in foods including oats, beans, peas, barley, avocados, and psyllium husk, can help alleviate symptoms.

  • A diet low in fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, and monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAPS) has been recognized as an effective treatment for IBS. The low-FODMAP diet entails temporarily eliminating FODMAP foods from the diet for several weeks, then slowly reintroducing them. This diet should be conducted under the supervision of a registered dietitian to ensure it’s done properly.11
    • Peppermint oil has been studied for its antispasmodic properties, or reducing abnormal muscle contractions in the gut, in the treatment of IBS.12 Peppermint oil is best consumed in capsule form to avoid heartburn. Anyone taking peppermint oil for IBS should check with their doctor to determine the appropriate dosage.13

See your doctor

As with any health concern, consult with your doctor if you suspect you might have GERD, gastritis, or IBS.

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