Gastric problems include various digestive disorders and illnesses affecting the gastrointestinal tract. The human digestive system consists of the mouth, esophagus (food pipe), large intestine, small intestine, colon, rectum and anus. A number of factors contribute to gastric problems causing erosion, inflammation and irritation of the stomach lining. Any disturbances in the normal functioning of these organs can lead to gastric problems, including indigestion, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, excessive gas accumulation, etc. Although gastric problems are common in older individuals above the age of 40, they also affect children and young adults.
Causes of gastric problems
There may be several factors associated with gastric problems, from diet to lifestyle to infections:
- Empty stomach: Prolonged periods of staying on an empty stomach can lead to the accumulation of excessive stomach acids, causing gastric problems such as acid reflux.
- Spicy food: Consumption of excessive amounts of spicy food can cause irritation to the stomach lining, leading to gastric pain and indigestion.
- Unhealthy dietary habits: Consuming high amounts of junk food, aerated drinks, and insoluble fibres can cause an imbalance of gut microbes, disrupting the beneficial bacteria. This can lead to indigestion and other gastric problems.
- Infections: Various bacterial and viral infections of the stomach can also lead to gastric problems.
- Other factors: Various other factors such as stress, anxiety, stomach ulcers, food poising, kidney stones, etc., can cause gastrointestinal disturbances leading to gastric problems.
Symptoms of gastric problems
Gastric problems may present with various signs and symptoms, including:
- Recurrent stomach upset
- Constant stomach pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Acid reflux
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Burning sensation in the stomach
- Loss of appetite
- Diarrhea and discharge of stools with blood in severe cases
Risks related to gastric problems
Some risks associated with gastric problems include:
Low fibre diet: Diets low in fibre content can lead to difficult bowel and bladder movements, causing various gastric problems.
Lack of physical activity: Inadequate physical exercise interrupts the smooth digestion process, leading to gastric problems.
Stress: High levels of stress cause disruption of gastrointestinal functions, leading to gastric problems. Gastric problems which are left untreated for a long period of time can worsen and lead to various complications, including:
- Severe dehydration
- Internal bleeding
- Stomach ulcers
- Rupture of the intestinal wall
- Stomach cancer
- Spread of infection to other parts of the body
- Organ failure and dysfunction
Although mild gastric problems can be resolved with appropriate dietary and lifestyle measures, it is important to seek immediate medical attention in case of symptoms with severe intensity, including Repeated diarrhea/constipation causing discomfort, blood in stools, blood while vomiting, and excessive dehydration due to vomiting and diarrhea.
Diagnosis of gastric problems
Gastric problems are diagnosed based on some laboratory tests and procedures, including:
- Upper endoscopy: It involves an examination of the esophagus and the stomach with a small flexible tube (endoscope) inserted through the mouth. The tube is attached to a camera to clearly view the stomach for any abnormalities.
- Blood tests: A blood sample is taken to detect the presence of any infections causing gastric problems.
- Stool test: A stool sample is taken to evaluate the presence of abnormal bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.
Treatment of gastric problems
Treatment of gastric problems is based on the associated causative factors. Treatment may include:
- Medications: Antacids may be prescribed to reduce the acid production in the stomach. Antibiotics and other medications may be prescribed in cases of stomach infections to reduce heartburn. Probiotics may be prescribed to improve gut health.
- Dietary and lifestyle changes: Foods causing stomach discomfort/irritation are eliminated, and healthy food practices are encouraged.
Effective ways to prevent gastric problems
Gastric problems can be prevented with some simple dietary and lifestyle measures, including:
- Include foods rich in fibre, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, which help to ease digestion and facilitate bowel movements.
- Chew food properly before swallowing to avoid air trapping, which may lead to bloating.
- Stay hydrated as it facilitates regular bowel movements and prevents constipation.
- Avoid prolonged periods of an empty stomach; have small meals at regular intervals.
- Avoid smoking, having junk foods and alcohol.
- Exercise after meals, which enhances digestion and metabolism.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How can gastric problems be cured?
Gastric problems are treated based on causative factors, and they may include medications, dietary changes and lifestyle measures.
How can gastric problems be prevented?
Gastric problems can be prevented with healthy eating practices and lifestyle measures, including consuming fibre-rich foods, adequate hydration and physical exercise, avoiding junk food, smoking, alcohol and eating at regular intervals.
What can gastric problems lead to if left untreated?
Gastric problems, if left untreated, can lead to various complications, including internal bleeding, stomach ulcers, intestinal wall rupture, the spread of infection, stomach cancer, organ failure and dysfunction.
What are the foods to be avoided in case of gastric problems?
High-calorie junk foods, fried foods, foods high in sugar, dairy products, starchy foods and spicy foods must be avoided in case of gastric problems.
Dr Jayaraj Magnus Mansard
MBBS, M.S (General Surgery), DNB (Gastro), Fellow HPB & Liver transplantSenior Consultant - GI Surgeon Department of Minimally Invasive Bariatric & GI Surgery