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Digestive Health | Conditions & Treatments

Some of the more common digestive health conditions and their risk factors are listed below.

If you think you may have one of these conditions, talk with your doctor. 


Ulcerative Colitis

Your Age: Ulcerative colitis can strike at any age, but you're most likely to develop the condition when you're in your 30s.

Your Ethnicity: Whites and those of Jewish descent, have a higher risk.

Your Family History: You're at higher risk if you have a close relative, such as a parent, sibling or child, with the disease.

Where You Live: If you live in an urban area or in an industrialized country, you're more likely to develop ulcerative colitis, because diets in these areas tend to be high in fat or refined foods.

Inflamed Bile Ducts: Your doctor may look for ulcerative colitis if you've been diagnosed with this condition.

Abnormalities of the Immune System: Many doctors aren't sure whether this is a cause or result of the disease.


GERD (heartburn)

Obesity: Extra weight puts extra pressure on your stomach, allowing stomach acids to back up into your esophagus. Eating very large meals or meals high in fat may cause similar effects.

Hiatal Hernia: In this condition, part of your stomach protrudes into your lower chest. If the protrusion is large, a hiatal hernia can worsen heartburn by further weakening the lower esophageal muscle.

Pregnancy: Pregnancy results in greater pressure on the stomach and a higher production of the hormone progesterone. This hormone relaxes many of your muscles, including the lower esophageal sphincter.

Asthma: Coughing and difficulty exhaling lead to pressure changes in your chest and abdomen, triggering regurgitation of stomach acid into your esophagus.

Diabetes: One of the many complications of diabetes is gastroparesis, a disorder in which your stomach takes too long to empty. If left in your stomach too long, stomach contents can regurgitate into your esophagus and cause heartburn.

Delayed Stomach Emptying: In addition to diabetes or an ulcer, abnormal nerve or muscle functions can delay emptying of your stomach, causing acid backup into the esophagus.

Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome: One of the complications of this rare disorder is that your stomach produces extremely large amounts of acid, increasing the risk of acid reflux.


Diverticulitis

Your Age: You're more likely to get diverticulitis if you're over the age of 40, although it's not known why.

  • Too little fiber
  • Lack of exercise

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Adolescence or Early Adulthood: The disease usually presents when you're between the ages of 15 and 30.

Your Sex: It is more common in women.

  • Low-fiber diet
  • Emotional stress
  • Use of laxatives
  • Abnormalities of the immune system: Many doctors aren't sure whether this is a cause or result of the disease.

Crohn's Disease

Your Age: Most people are diagnosed with Crohn's between the ages of 20 and 30.

Your Ethnicity: Whites and those of Jewish descent, have a higher risk.

Your Family History: You're at higher risk if you have a close relative, such as a parent, sibling or child, with the disease.

Where You Live: If you live in an urban area or in an industrialized country, you're more likely to develop ulcerative colitis, because diets in these areas tend to be high in fat or refined foods.

Smoking: If you smoke, you are far more likely to develop Crohn's disease.​


Barrett's Esophagus

Chronic heartburn and acid reflux or GERD

Your Sex: Men are two to threes times more likely to develop Barrett's esophagus.

Your Race: White and Hispanic people are at greater risk of the disease than are blacks and Asians.

Your Age: Although Barrett's esophagus can affect people of all ages, the condition is more common in older adults.


Colon Cancer

Your Age: About 90 percent of people diagnosed with colon cancer are older than 50.

Your Personal History: If you've already had colon cancer or polyps, you have a greater risk of colon cancer in the future.

Inflammatory Intestinal Conditions: Long-standing inflammatory diseases of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, can increase your risk of colon cancer.

Your Family History: You're more likely to develop colon cancer if you have a parent, sibling or child who has or has had the disease.

Your Diet: Colon cancer and rectal cancer may be associated with a diet low in fiber and high in fat and calories.

Your Lifestyle: Those who don't exercise regularly are at a greater risk.

Diabetes: People with diabetes may have an increased risk of colon cancer.

Obesity: People who are obese have an increased risk of colon cancer and an increased risk of dying of colon cancer when compared with people of normal weight.

Smoking

Alcohol: Heavy use of alcohol may increase your odds of getting colon cancer.

Radiation Therapy for Cancer: Radiation therapy directed at the abdomen to treat previous cancers may increase the risk of colon cancer.

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