Comprehensive Care For Your Digestive Problems
Digestive problems are common in American society. Abdominal pain, colon cancer, celiac disease, intestinal polyps, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcers, ulcerative colitis, hemorrhoids, Crohn’s disease and even minor rectal bleeding are all common GI conditions that can make your life miserable when left untreated. Common related symptoms include anemia, constipation, diarrhea and vomiting.
Nisha Chand, MD, is an experienced, board-certified gastroenterologist, or GI doctor, who uses the latest treatments to give you relief from your digestive problems. She also provides hemorrhoid treatment, colonoscopy and endoscopy.
Intestinal Polyps and Treatment
Intestinal polyps are benign growths (noncancerous tumors) on the bowel lining. They are most common in the colon but can occur almost anywhere in the digestive tract, varying in size from a quarter-inch up to several inches. Patients frequently have several polyps scattered in different parts of their colon. While some polyps have small areas of cancer, the vast majority of polyps are benign.
Polyps are very common, especially as we age. Even a typical 60-year-old with no risk factors has a 25-percent chance of developing polyps. The exact causes of polyps are unknown, though some experts believe a high-fat, low-fiber diet and genetics can predispose us to polyp formation.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
GERD occurs when contents in the stomach flow back into the esophagus (food pipe). GERD happens when the lower esophageal sphincter valve between stomach and esophagus does not close properly. The most common symptoms of GERD are heartburn and acid regurgitation. When stomach contents irritate the lining of the esophagus, heartburn (a burning sensation in the upper chest) occurs. Less common GERD symptoms include unexplained chest pains, cough, wheezing and sore throat.
One major cause of GERD is obesity. Increased pressure in the abdomen can overcome the barrier between the stomach and the esophagus. Pregnancy, smoking, excess alcohol use and consumption of coffee, citrus drinks, tomato-based products, chocolate, peppermint and fatty foods contribute to GERD symptoms.
Upper endoscopy allows your GI doctor to see the lining of the esophagus and detect any evidence of damage due to GERD.
Celiac disease, also known as sprue and gluten intolerance, is an immune system reaction to eating gluten protein, which is found in wheat, barley and rye. If you have celiac disease, eating gluten triggers an immune response in your small intestine. This slowly damages the small intestine’s lining and blocks the absorption of some essential nutrients. Intestinal damage often causes anemia, bloating, diarrhea, fatigue and weight loss, possibly leading to serious complications. Adults may also experience abdominal pain, nausea, constipation and vomiting. Malabsorption can even affect the growth and development of children.
There’s no cure for celiac disease, but following a strict gluten-free diet can help most people manage their symptoms and promote GI healing. Symptoms of celiac disease can also vary greatly in children and adults.
Minor Rectal Bleeding
There are many possible causes of minor rectal bleeding. The most common are:
- Anal fissures
- Anal cancer
- Colon cancer
- Proctitis (inflammation of the rectum)
- Rectal ulcers
Minor rectal bleeding refers to a few drops of bright red blood from the rectum, which may appear on stool or toilet paper or in the toilet bowl. With several possible causes for minor rectal bleeding, you should have a complete evaluation and early diagnosis by your GI doctor. Rectal bleeding can be a symptom of colon cancer, which can be cured if detected early.
Hemorrhoids are actually swollen blood vessels in the anus and rectum. They can either be internal or external. Hemorrhoids are the most common cause of minor rectal bleeding and are typically not painful. The exact cause is unknown but may be related to constipation, diarrhea, heavy lifting, obesity, pregnancy and sitting or standing for long periods. Hemorrhoids are more common as people age. Fortunately, hemorrhoids do not lead to cancer.
Medical hemorrhoid treatment includes treatment for constipation, warm baths and over-the-counter creams or suppositories. If medical hemorrhoid treatment fails, we have other methods of reducing the size or eliminating internal hemorrhoids. Rubber band ligation is the most common outpatient procedure for hemorrhoids. It involves placing small rubber bands around the base of the hemorrhoid to cut off its blood supply. This shrinks the hemorrhoid. In just a few days, both the hemorrhoid and the rubber band will fall off during a bowel movement.
After band ligation, your GI doctor or gastroenterologist may prescribe pain medication and stool softeners. Less common hemorrhoid treatment includes laser or infrared coagulation and sclerotherapy (medicine injected directly into the hemorrhoid). These are office-based procedures. Surgical hemorrhoid treatment may be needed in severe cases or if symptoms persist despite coagulation, rubber band ligation or sclerotherapy treatments.
Anemia occurs when there are not enough healthy red blood cells to carry sufficient oxygen throughout your body’s tissues. There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Symptoms of anemia may include:
- Chest pain
- Cold hands and feet
- Dizziness, lightheadedness
- Pale or yellowish skin
- Irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
There are different types of anemia. Iron deficiency anemia and vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia are common. Don’t assume just because you’re tired that you have anemia. If you’ve been told that you cannot donate blood due to low hemoglobin (a sign of anemia), make an appointment with your GI doctor, or gastroenterologist.
Crohn’s disease is a common inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation of the digestive tract plus abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition. Crohn’s disease can be painful and debilitating, and it may even lead to life-threatening complications.
There’s no known cure for Crohn’s disease, but therapy can greatly reduce symptoms and lead to long-term remission. With treatment, many people with Crohn’s disease can function well. Symptoms of Crohn’s disease range from mild to severe and usually develop gradually. Sometimes symptoms begin without warning. You may also have periods with no signs or symptoms (these are called remissions). Symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain, cramping
- Blood in stool
- Mouth ulcers or sores
- Reduced appetite
- Weight loss
- Pain or drainage near anus due to fistula
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder affecting the large intestine. Symptoms include cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, or both. IBS is a chronic condition that requires long-term management. It is uncommon for people with IBS to have severe symptoms. Some people control symptoms by managing their diet, lifestyle and stress. More severe symptoms may require medication and counseling. Irritable bowel syndrome does not increase your risk of colon cancer. The most common irritable bowel symptoms are:
- Abdominal pain, cramping or bloating relieved by bowel movement
- Excess gas
- Diarrhea or constipation, or alternating diarrhea and constipation
- Mucus in stool
Most people with IBS have times when their symptoms are worse, better or even disappear completely. See your GI doctor, or gastroenterologist, if you have a persistent change in bowel habits or other symptoms of IBS. They may indicate a more serious condition, such as colon cancer. Serious signs include:
- Diarrhea at night
- Rectal bleeding
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Unexplained vomiting
- Difficulty swallowing
- Persistent pain not relieved by passing gas or bowel movement
Like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes long-term inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract. Ulcerative colitis affects the inner lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum. Symptoms typically develop over time, not suddenly. Ulcerative colitis can be debilitating and sometimes leads to life-threatening complications. Treatment can greatly reduce symptoms and even bring about long-term remission. Ulcerative colitis symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain, cramping
- Diarrhea, often with blood or pus
- Failure to grow in children
- Rectal pain
- Rectal bleeding – passing small amount of blood with stool
- Urgency to defecate
- Inability to defecate despite urgency
- Weight loss
Most people with ulcerative colitis have mild to moderate symptoms, with some people experiencing long periods of remission.
Discover a compassionate GI doctor at Northern Virginia Gastroenterology. Call us or use our Request an Appointment form. We welcome patients from Annandale, Reston, Chantilly, Centreville, Burke and surrounding communities.