Our digestive system is the most diverse and complicated system in our body. It consists of organs that work continuously, turning food into nutrients and energy that keep us alive.
The four (4) main components of the digestive system are gastrointestinal tract, liver, pancreas and bladder.
The organs connected to the gastrointestinal tract are mouth, esophagus, small and large intestines, and anus.
Here’s the basic functions of the digestive organs:
Everyone may experience digestive problems once in a while. Although there are simple solutions to manage your gut troubles, there are certain conditions when you need to see your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
A pain in the abdomen or intestines can be a signal of a less or more serious condition. Make sure to watch out for other symptoms as you might already have GERD, chronic diarrhea, stomach flu, ulcers, and hemorrhoids among others.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) occurs when your acidic stomach juices and fluids flow back up into your mouth through your esophagus.
If you have this condition, you may encounter symptoms such as: heartburn, chest pain, trouble swallowing, sleep problems, nausea, bad breath or a lump in your throat . It’s often worse after eating.
GERD is curable if treated properly.
Chronic Diarrhea is when you have loose stools that last for at least four weeks and are caused by irritable bowel syndrome, infections, inflammatory bowel disease, food indigestion or malabsorption or diabetes.
Some of the symptoms are abdominal pain/cramps, presence of blood in the stool, fever, dehydration or weight loss.
Chronic Diarrhea can be life threatening and should be evaluated by a professional healthcare specialist immediately. A blood, stool and urine test can help identify the cause of diarrhea.
Gastroenteritis or Stomach Flu is an inflammation of the intestine which is caused by a viral or bacterial infection. It can easily spread from person to person through contact with tiny, invisible particles from a sick person’s stool or vomit.
You are more likely to experience abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, fever or headache and body aches if you have this condition.
Gastroenteritis can be diagnosed with a stool test, and sigmoidoscopy - a procedure that checks your colon or large intestine.
Ulcers are open, painful sore in your small intestine. It happens when the protective layer of your digestive tract is reduced due to stomach acid.
Some signs that you have ulcers are when you have a burning pain in your abdomen, black or dark stool, anemia, acid reflux, or you are vomiting, feeling nauseous, losing weight or bloating.
Ulcers can be diagnosed with stool, breath and blood tests. Your doctor may also require endoscopy - a procedure where a thin, flexible tube attached to a camera is inserted to your mouth down to your throat and into your stomach. This condition can be treated with antibiotics and other over-the-counter medicines.
Hemorrhoids are swollen red lumps or veins in your lower rectum. Internal hemorrhoids are painless but tend to bleed while external hemorrhoids are painful and may cause itchiness, irritation and difficulty sitting.
Home treatments or over-the-counter medicines can make the symptoms go away within a week. But if you don’t get better and you have severe pain or swelling, visit your doctor sooner.
To properly diagnose this condition, your doctor may examine your anal canal and rectum through digital examination or visual inspection. A colonoscopy procedure may also be suggested to rule out any other digestive disease or colon cancer.
Some patients may be required to undergo hemorrhoid surgery which is performed under general anesthesia and the recovery period can last up to 4 weeks.
As a first step, in managing your gut problems, change your diet and lifestyle. You can start by lessening fatty food intake, avoiding carbonated and alcoholic drinks, quitting smoking, exercising more, avoiding foods and sweeteners that cause gas, minimizing eating spicy food, keeping a balanced diet, drinking lots of water and engaging in self-relaxation.
While we usually can’t prevent the unexpected from happening, planning ahead can be a wise approach. Having health insurance protection keeps things and your life in order when things get bad.
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Don’t neglect your digestive health. Take the necessary steps now to improve your overall health and sense of well-being.