Digestive disorders range from mild to severe, from acute to
chronic, and from disorders that resolve themselves to those requiring surgery
A range of medical professionals could be needed to treat
digestive disorders: GPs, dietitians, gastro-enterologists, endocrinologists,
proctologists, ear- nose- and throat specialists and surgeons.
Many digestive disorders have similar symptoms
Before any treatment can be effective, it is essential that
a correct diagnosis be made. This can be complicated by the fact that many
digestive disorders have similar symptoms, such as nausea, diarrhoea and
Diarrhoea, one of the most common symptoms of digestive
disorders, can cause serious dehydration, especially in infants, and even
in adults, digestive disorders that do not resolve themselves in a day or two
warrant medical attention.
In many cases that
are not life-threatening, doctors will recommend short-term medication
(sometimes just to relieve symptoms or clear an infection) or a change in
dietary habits, before considering surgery.
Surgical treatment for digestive disorders is a lot less
invasive than a few decades ago, because of the development of techniques such
as laparoscopy and the use of ultrasound. The use of endoscopes for diagnostic purposes, and even
some treatments, of digestive disorders, such as the removal of polyps, have
cut down recovery time after surgical procedures.
Surgery for digestive disorders is roughly divided into two
parts: upper gastro-intestinal surgery and lower gastro-intestinal surgery.
As the Journal Gastrointestinal & Digestive
System reminds us, multiple factors need to be taken into account when
choosing the most appropriate treatment or procedure for a patient, one of
which is the clinical condition of the patient.
Once a correct diagnosis has been made, treatment can start.
Here’s more about possible treatments for digestive disorders:
foods and lifestyle choices: Certain
conditions are exacerbated by particular foods, for instance spicy food
increases the level of discomfort experienced by those with stomach ulcers or
Your doctor or dietician will take a careful look at your
diet and lifestyle and also possible food intolerances that you may have, and
advise on changes you could make to help relieve the symptoms of whatever
digestive disorder you may have. Avoidance of certain foods may have to be a
life-long decision, such as gluten in the case of those with Coeliac Disease.
Smoking, drinking and a lack of exercise could also contribute to the severity
of digestive diseases, and lifestyle changes may be necessary.
the case of bacterial or parasitic infections, a short course of antibiotics
may be prescribed. Antacids could be recommended for heartburn, and pain
medication (from over-the counter painkillers to those only available on
prescription) for abdominal pain caused by any of the digestive disorders. Certain
conditions may require long-term medication and vigilance as far as diet is
concerned. Anti-nausea medication and anti-diarrhoeal medication is available
from the pharmacy without a prescription.
It is never a good idea to self-diagnose a digestive disease
and take OTC medication for long periods of time without seeing a
doctor. The Cleveland Clinic warns that long-term use of antacids,
for instance, is linked to a vitamin B12 shortage in patients.
digestive disorders constitute a medical emergency, such as appendicitis. These
are usually accompanied by acute abdominal pain, as in the case of an abdominal
obstruction, or a ruptured organ according to the Merck Manuals.
bleeding can also be life-threatening and can require immediate surgery.
Surgery is also used to repair structural problems, such as hernias or
blockages in the bile duct (gallstones), or certain ulcers. Surgery is used to
remove tumours. As the digestive system is so large, and consists of so many
parts, there is a long list of surgical procedures that doctors are able to
perform on this system.
Endoscopic treatment: In cases of bleeding in the gastrointestinal
systems, endoscopic treatment plays a major role in the diagnosis and
management. Argon plasma coagulation of
bleeding sites, banding of haemorrhoids in the oesophagus and rectum, injection
of bleedings ulcers are a few situations where endoscopic treatment is the
first choice in the management. There
are also endoscopic treatments available for reflux disease and achalasia,
strictures in the gastrointestinal tract, removal of gall stones, etc.
What are digestive disorders?
Treating digestive disorders
Causes of digestive disorders
Reviewed by Dr Estelle Wilken (MBChB) (MMed
Int) ,Senior Specialist, Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology,
University of Stellenbosch and Tygerberg Hospital. February 2016.