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Diseases & Conditions

Digestive Diseases: Frequently Asked Questions

What are hemorrhoids?

Hemorrhoids are swollen blood vessels near the anus and lower rectum (lower part of the large intestine). These blood vessels are found in spongy cushions of tissue just under the lining of the anal canal. Hemorrhoids bleed when the blood vessels rupture (for example, from straining during a bowel movement). Because bleeding can be a sign of colon cancer or colon polyps, you should consult with your doctor whenever you have bleeding from the rectum, blood in your stools, or blood in the toilet after a bowel movement. Your doctor might recommend a visual examination of the lower colon (sigmoidoscopy) or entire colon (colonoscopy).

How can I prevent hemorrhoids?

The best way to prevent hemorrhoids is to keep your stools soft so they pass easily without any straining. Eating a high-fiber diet and drinking plenty of fluids (six to eight glasses of fluids each day) can help you stay regular and help your stools remain soft, reducing constipation and lowering the risk of developing new hemorrhoids.

What is gastroesophageal reflux disease?

When you swallow, food passes down your throat and through your esophagus to your stomach. A muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter controls the opening between the esophagus and the stomach, and remains tightly closed except when you swallow food. When this muscle fails to close, the acid-containing contents of the stomach can splash back up into the esophagus. This backward movement is called reflux. When stomach acid enters the lower part of the esophagus, it can produce a burning sensation, commonly referred to as heartburn.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when this reflux is frequent enough to affect your daily life, and/or damage your esophagus.

What is laparoscopic surgery?

Laparoscopic surgery is "minimally invasive" surgery during which several small (usually 5- to 10-millimeter) incisions (cuts) are made in the abdomen. The laparoscope and surgical instruments are inserted through these incisions. The surgeon is guided by the laparoscope, which transmits a picture of the internal organs onto a monitor.

Laparoscopic anti-reflux surgery is used in the treatment of GERD when medicines are not successful. Laparoscopic anti-reflux surgery is a minimally-invasive procedure that corrects gastroesophageal reflux by creating an improved valve mechanism at the bottom of the esophagus.

Laparoscopic anti-reflux surgery is most appropriate for people who have not had previous abdominal surgery, those who have small hiatal hernias without complications of GERD, and those who experience most symptoms of reflux when lying down.

Patients who have laparoscopic anti-reflux surgery generally experience less pain and scarring after surgery, have a quicker recovery, and less risk of infection than those who have traditional anti-reflux surgery.

What are the benefits of healthy eating?

Eating a balanced diet can help you avoid digestive discomfort. Unhealthy diets can contribute to digestive system difficulties. Many people eat too much processed food and sugar, and not enough fiber, fruits, and vegetables. Be sure to get adequate amounts of fruits, vegetables, and fiber in your diet.

What steps can I take to avoid digestive discomfort?

Many digestive problems can be prevented with lifestyle changes. Poor eating habits, such as eating too quickly or skipping meals, can result in digestive discomfort. Be sure to eat food slowly, chewing thoroughly. You might want to try eating several small meals throughout the day to help lessen any symptoms of digestive discomfort.

How can I help a loved one to cope with digestive difficulties?

Encourage your loved one to seek treatment as soon as symptoms appear. Immediate treatment can help in relieving as much discomfort as possible. Diarrhea, vomiting, poor absorption of nutrients, and side effects of drug treatment all might lead to malnutrition. If the symptoms do not get better after a few days or if they are very severe, call a doctor to ensure that your loved one receives proper evaluation and treatment.

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease (also known as celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy) is a digestive and autoimmune disorder. An autoimmune disorder is one in which the immune system directs antibodies to attack the body. The antibody of celiac disease is formed after exposure to gluten, a protein found in grains. In people who have celiac disease, the immune system causes damage to the small intestine and prevents the proper absorption of nutrients from food.

What is endoscopy?

Endoscopy is a procedure that uses a flexible, lighted tube to look inside the esophagus, stomach, duodenum (first section of the small intestine), colon, or rectum. The procedure is commonly used to help diagnose:

  • Abdominal or chest pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Heartburn
  • Bleeding
  • Swallowing disorders
  • Ulcers
  • Tumors
  • Inflammation
  • Bowel movement difficulties

What is liver failure?

Liver failure occurs when large parts of the liver become damaged beyond repair, and the liver is no longer able to function.

Liver failure is a life-threatening condition that demands urgent medical care. Most often, liver failure occurs gradually and over many years. However, a more rare condition known as acute liver failure occurs rapidly (in as little as 48 hours) and can be difficult to detect initially.

The most common causes of liver failure are:

  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C
  • Long-term, excessive alcohol consumption
  • Cirrhosis
  • Hemochromatosis
  • Malnutrition

When should I call the doctor?

You should call your doctor if any of the following occur:

  • Heartburn that persists and/or becomes more severe, or is not relieved by medicine
  • A sensation of food caught in the chest or throat
  • Unusual or persistent abdominal pain
  • Discomfort that interferes with daily activities
  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • Heartburn that causes vomiting
  • Vomiting of blood
  • Bloody or black stools
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Persistent hoarseness and/or a sore throat
  • Episodes of choking
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • New or persistent constipation

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 8/20/2009...#12286