Digestive Disease Myths (cont.)

Myth # 2 Heartburn: Smoking a cigarette helps relieve heartburn.

False

Actually, cigarette smoking may contribute to heartburn. Heartburn occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) - a muscle between the esophagus and stomach - relaxes, allowing the acidic contents of the stomach to splash back (reflux) into the esophagus. People who smoke more frequently have inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis), presumably caused by increased reflux of acid, that is the basis of heartburn. The increased reflux is believed to be due to the fact that cigarette smoking causes the LES to relax.

Myth # 3 Celiac Disease: Celiac disease is a rare childhood disease.

False

Celiac disease affects both children and adults. About 1 in 200 people in the United States have the genetic predisposition for celiac disease although not all of them have the disease. Sometimes celiac disease first causes symptoms during childhood, usually diarrhea, growth failure, and failure to thrive. But the disease can also first cause symptoms in adults of any age. These symptoms may be vague and therefore attributed to other conditions. Symptoms can include bloating and abdominal distention, flatulence, diarrhea, and abdominal pain due to the involvement of the small intestine as well as skin rash, anemia, and thinning of the bones (osteoporosis) due to malabsorption of nutrients by the diseased intestine. Celiac disease may cause such nonspecific symptoms for several years before being correctly diagnosed and treated.

People with celiac disease should not eat any foods containing gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley, whether they have symptoms or not. In celiac disease, gluten provokes an inflammatory reaction by the body that destroys the lining of the small intestine, which interferes with the absorption of nutrients. Even a small amount of gluten can cause damage, and sometimes no symptoms will be apparent.

Myth # 4 Bowel Regularity: Bowel regularity means a bowel movement every day.

False

The frequency of bowel movements among normal, healthy people varies from three a day to three a week, and some perfectly healthy people fall outside both ends of this range. Nevertheless, even three bowel movements a day can be abnormal in someone who usually has one bowel movement a day. People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may have fluctuating numbers of stools each day as well as fluctuating consistency of their stools.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/9/2014