Gastroenterology Conditions Treated at The Iowa Clinic
When it comes to your GI tract, short-term symptoms and chronic conditions can disrupt your life. Work with Central Iowa’s leading specialists to understand the cause of your pain, discomfort or distress.
Common Structural Gastroenterological Conditions
When GI tract issues arise from abnormal-looking bowels, it’s considered a structural GI condition. Sometimes, these GI abnormalities even need to be removed surgically. Some of the more common structural conditions include colon polyps, hemorrhoids and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Check out our specialist team dedicated to treating IBD at the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center right here in central Iowa.
The tube that connects your stomach to your mouth, called the esophagus, has a special lining that can be damaged by chronic inflammation or acid reflux. A special valve, known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), sits between your esophagus and stomach. When this is damaged, stomach acid can enter into the esophagus and lead to heartburn and regurgitation known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). When these esophageal lining cells get damaged and change, it’s known as Barrett’s esophagus.
BE is associated with a higher risk of esophageal cancer. Though the risk is low, regular checkups can help identify precancerous cells (also called dysplasia).
Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder, interferes with how your small intestine absorbs food. Gluten, found naturally in wheat, rye and barley, causes your body to overreact and attack the small intestine. Common symptoms in adults include bloating, gas, chronic diarrhea, weight loss and abdominal pain. Usually, once you eliminate gluten from your diet and adhere to a gluten-free diet, your body will heal the damage.
A noncancerous growth in your colon, called a colon polyp, can vary in size and rarely causes symptoms. Though more common as you age, other factors include family history and previous polyps. Usually found during a screening colonoscopy, most polyps can be removed and then evaluated by a pathologist. Adenomatous polyps can develop into colon cancer if not removed, while hyperplastic polyps don’t carry that risk.
If your provider diagnoses polyps during a colonoscopy, they may ask you to continue regular procedures every 3–5 years.
An inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease is often painful, sometimes debilitating and can be active or in remission. Symptoms like abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, bloody stools and inflamed skin, eyes or joints. Age and family history may play a role, but the precise cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown. With the right treatment plan, often Crohn’s can be managed (though there isn't a one-size fits all cure).
Related: A Gut Doctor Answers Your Crohn’s Disease Questions
Most people suffer from acute diarrhea, or diarrhea lasting for two days to two weeks, at some point in their lifetime. But for chronic sufferers, diarrhea bouts can last upwards of four weeks or more. Loose, watery stools can be caused by a number of different things, but longer-lasting episodes may be an indication of a GI condition like Crohn’s disease or IBS.
Small pouches can form in the lining of your digestive system, called diverticulosis. These marble-sized diverticula are more common as you age and usually found in the lower part of the large intestine (the colon). Though these rarely cause problems, when one becomes inflamed or infected, it’s known as diverticulitis. Often, it can be treated with a change in diet, some rest and antibiotics.
Occasional dysphagia, or trouble swallowing, is normal. But when difficulty swallowing is longer-lasting and accompanied by pain, it can be a sign of a larger issue. You may be unable to swallow, feel like food is stuck in your throat or chest, regurgitate food or stomach acid or cough or gag while swallowing. The underlying cause for dysphagia may be related to your esophagus — narrowing of the passage, spasms or weakness — or related to reflux, neurologic conditions or cancer.
Abnormal or enlarged veins in your esophagus, known as esophageal varices, are usually accompanied by serious liver disease. When these veins leak or break, it can be life-threatening. Symptoms may include black, tarry stools or bloody vomit. Treatment for varices focuses on preventing further damage and to control bleeding.
When the contents of your stomach flow the wrong way — back up into your esophagus — it’s known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Sitting between your esophagus and your stomach is a valve called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), and when this doesn’t properly close, you may experience heartburn or acid regurgitation. Contributing factors for GERD may include diet, weight, smoking and even pregnancy. Usually, lifestyle modifications and medication can help alleviate symptoms of GERD. But for more persistent symptoms, additional procedures may be necessary.
Hepatitis is more commonly known by its viral variations: A, B and C. But hepatitis is inflammation of the liver that can be due to a virus or other cause, such as medicine, alcohol, autoimmune disorder or low blood supply to the liver. Chronic hepatitis can have serious implications, including liver scarring (known as cirrhosis), liver failure and liver cancer.
Similar to varicose veins, hemorrhoids occur when veins swell in your anus or lower rectum. Often, increased pressure can lead to hemorrhoids, including straining during bowel movements, spending long periods of time on the toilet, a low-fiber diet, pregnancy or chronic diarrhea. Symptoms include itching, pain and bleeding near your anus. Home treatments and lifestyle changes are usually successful treatment options, but there are non-surgical and surgical removal options as well. You should always talk to your provider if you notice blood in your stool.
Pancreatitis and Pancreatic Disorders
Your pancreas produces insulin and digestive enzymes to help your body regulate and process sugar. Pancreatitis happens when your pancreas becomes inflamed, which can be short-term or long-lasting. Mild, acute cases may go away without treatment. But more severe or chronic pancreatitis may lead to life-threatening complications that require a surgical procedure. Symptoms may include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or weight loss.
Pancreatic cysts, saclike pockets of fluid that form in or on your pancreas, often don’t cause any symptoms and may only be discovered during imaging tests for another condition. However, some may have a cancer risk and may need to be monitored. If you do have symptoms, these may include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, weight loss or feeling full right after you’ve eaten.
Another type of inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis leads to long-lasting ulcers or sores in your digestive tract. Symptoms usually onset gradually and can include diarrhea (with blood or pus), abdominal cramping or pain, rectal bleeding, fatigue and fever. As a reminder, blood in your stool should always be discussed with your provider. Though there’s not a cure for ulcerative colitis, symptoms may be managed through lifestyle changes. For persistent or debilitating cases of ulcerative colitis, medication or surgery may be recommended.
Related: Ulcerative Colitis: What It Is and How to Fix It
Common Functional Gastrointestinal Conditions
Problems that occur when your GI tract looks normal but doesn’t work normally are known as functional GI conditions. A lot of things can upset your GI tract and its ability to keep moving (known as motility), including:
- Diet — low in fiber or high in dairy
- Changes in your normal routine (like traveling)
- Medicines — overusing stool softeners or laxatives, using aluminum- or calcium-based antacids, taking iron supplements or even using some prescription medicines like antidepressants or pain medications
When it becomes difficult to have a bowel movement, you may have constipation. This also includes infrequent or incomplete bowel movements, too. Though not often a sign of larger health concerns, constipation may lead to problems like hemorrhoids. Common treatments include increasing physical activity, increasing the amount of fiber you eat and going when you have the urge (instead of ignoring it).
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Sometimes known as a “nervous stomach,” irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be onset by irritations from certain foods, emotions or medicines that make the colon contract more frequently than normal. IBS symptoms may include bloating, alternating constipation and diarrhea, gas and abdominal pains or cramps. Common treatments can include diet changes like increasing fiber and decreasing caffeine, minimizing or coping with stress or identifying which foods cause symptoms to avoid.
Motility disorders, or issues related to keeping food and waste moving through your digestive system, can include constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, incontinence, obstructions and more.