Depending on the symptoms and underlying cause, treatment of gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses may include:
- Lifestyle modifications: Many GI issues can be managed by lifestyle changes. For example, avoiding fatty or spicy foods may ease heartburn or acid reflux. Constipation may be managed by eating fiber-rich foods and drinking plenty of water. Getting enough rest, plenty of fluids, and eating easy-to-digest foods may provide relief from other symptoms such as diarrhea or stomach upset.
- Prebiotics and probiotics: Prebiotics and probiotics can promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut, which are responsible for promoting the health of your digestive tract and immune system. Prebiotics feed gut bacteria, and probiotics are bacteria that you can ingest and help with intestinal immunity.
- Medications: Medications can help with GI symptoms such as:
- Stool softeners for constipation
- Antiemetic medications for nausea and vomiting
- Oral rehydration solution (ORS) for diarrhea and dehydration prevention
- Antibiotics in some cases of diarrhea
- Surgery: Surgery may be necessary to treat GI diseases that cannot be managed through medications, such as bowel obstruction and appendicular stones. In some cases, colon or rectal polyp removal surgery may be done to prevent the progression of colorectal cancer.
What is gastrointestinal illness?
Gastrointestinal illness is an umbrella term used for any condition that affects the gastrointestinal tract or GIT, which includes:
- Esophagus (tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach)
- Small intestine (small bowel)
- Large intestine (large bowel)
GI illnesses are also called digestive diseases. Apart from the GIT, they also include other organs that aid in digestion including the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas.
GI diseases are common and can affect any age and gender although the frequency or prevalence in different age groups may vary depending upon the type of GI disease. For example, colorectal cancers tend to affect older people more often than younger people.
Examples of GI diseases include:
- Intestinal infections
- Diverticular disease
- Peptic ulcer disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Worm infestations
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Bowel obstruction
- Cancers such as colorectal cancer and stomach cancer
- Anal fissure or fistula
- Celiac disease
- Liver cirrhosis
What are the symptoms of gastrointestinal illness?
Symptoms of gastrointestinal diseases vary depending upon the type of disease and its severity. Generally, symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Dyspepsia or indigestion
- Reduced appetite
- Heartburn or acid reflux
- Blood in stools
- Change in stool color such as clay-colored stools or black tarry stools
- Painful bowel movements
- Feeling of not emptying the bowel despite having a bowel movement
Cancers of the GI tract may not present with symptoms initially and often only appear in advanced stages. Besides the above symptoms, bowel cancers may present with symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, narrow stools, change in bowel habits, and pale appearance due to anemia.
If you experience these symptoms or have persistent GI issues, talk to your doctor for timely treatment and proper management.
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