Hector Rodriguez-Luna, MD, is a gastroentrologist on staff at Banner Estrella Medical Center. His office can be reached at (623) 236-8507.
Question: Since most of us have experienced or will experience gastrointestinal problems at some point or another, can you describe some of the common gastrointestinal issues that people deal with and what causes these problems?
Answer: Gastrointestinal issues affect millions of people every day and can take a broad range of forms, from something as simple as a mild bout of diarrhea or constipation to something as serious as colon cancer. To help think about the different types of gastrointestinal issues, it is useful to place them into two categories: functional disorders and structural disorders.
Gastrointestinal issues are considered functional disorders when the bowel appears normal but for some reason does not seem to be functioning as it should. These types of problems are common and include a variety of manifestations such as diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain (stomach) pain, fullness sensation and “indigestion”. These disorders are defined under the Rome Criteria for functional bowel disorders and include entities such as irritable bowel syndrome and dyspepsia.
Is not certain what causes a functional disorder but 60 percent of these patients have associated disorders such as depression or anxiety. What is important is that functional issues may resolve themselves with time and carry no malignant potential. Unfortunately, it is a quality of life issue and sometimes they need to be managed through lifestyle and dietary changes and/or medications.
Structural disorders, on the other hand are those when the bowel is abnormal. These disorders include diverticular disease, colitis, Celiac’s disease and cancer to name a few. Symptoms can be similar to functional disorders, but may also include obstructed bowel movements, unexplained weight loss and fatigue, bleeding, significant changes to bowel habits and unusual pain or even bleeding. If not properly addressed, some structural disorders can lead to more serious complications.
The good news is that the majority of gastrointestinal issues can be prevented, reduced or managed through healthy lifestyle and dietary choices, practicing good bowel habits, and receiving regular physical exams and cancer screenings. Unfortunately, we are only screening about 30 percent to 60 percent of patients.
Always remember that if you experience gastrointestinal issues that do not improve or worsen over time, see your health care provider to determine the cause of these issues and the best way to address them.