Digestive Health Archive


No need for ulcer drugs after eradicating H. pylori bacteria?

After eliminating the bacterial infection that causes bleeding peptic ulcers, it may not be necessary to continue taking acid-reducing medications, according to a study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

Infection with the Helicobacter pylori bacteria causes ulcers. People with ulcers commonly take a drug to reduce stomach acid secretion. It's been unclear whether people should continue taking these drugs after being treated for H. pylori infection.

Stomach-soothing steps for heartburn

First, change the behaviors that contribute to heartburn. If the pain persists, medications called PPIs are highly effective.

Are you bothered by burning behind the breastbone after eating? You are not alone. One-third of us suffer from heartburn, typified by a pain and irritation in the upper gut. The underlying trouble is usually a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Not requiring a co-pay boosts colorectal screening

Eliminating co-pays may convince more people to seek colorectal cancer screening. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) insurers can't always charge co-pays for certain preventive procedures. In a study in Clinical Gastroenterology and In 2009, the first year the ACA's co-pay limit went into effect, the percentage of people who underwent colonoscopy increased by 18%.

People often avoid colonoscopy because of the bowel-purging "prep" it requires. However, under the ACA anyone ages 50-75 can get colonoscopy paid for every 10 years. Although a preventive service may be fully covered, the visit to the doctor's office could still carry a co-pay.

What you should know about: Probiotics

When you consider ways to stay healthy as cold and flu season approaches, consuming live bacteria may not be at the top of your list. But not all bacteria are bad for you. In fact, "good" bacteria found in food and dietary supplements may help you ward off illness this winter and throughout the year. The supplements are called probiotics. "Probiotics have been shown to secrete protective substances which turn on the immune system and prevent pathogens from taking hold and creating major disease," says Dr. Allan Walker, director of the Division of Nutrition at Harvard Medical School and a world-renowned expert in the probiotics field.

The bacteria balance

Your lower gastrointestinal tract is home to 100 trillion microbes, most of which help digest food, fight harmful bacteria, and regulate your immune system. Such helpful microbes are "good bacteria." An imbalance of the good and bad bugs in your gut can make you sick. For example, germ-killing antibiotics may disrupt the balance, leading to diseases that cause diarrhea. Imbalances may also lead to certain autoimmune diseases and allergies.

When to stop colorectal screening

Q. I'm 76 and I have had three normal colonoscopies for routine colorectal cancer screening. Am I done now?

A. Recommendations for screening tests like colonoscopy usually state an age to start being screened, but when to stop is more of a gray area. Whether to continue screening depends on your overall health and how likely it is that you are still at risk for the disease. Remember, screening tests are performed to look for a problem years before it would likely appear. Colonoscopy, for example, detects the precancerous polyps that appear many years before the polyps turn into cancer.

I can't eat that!

Food intolerances make dairy and other foods hard to swallow.

As a child, you loved eating ice cream cones and drinking glasses of cold, delicious milk. Today, those same dairy treats leave you feeling gassy, bloated, and miserable. Could you be lactose intolerant?

High-fiber for preventing diverticulosis challenged

Has your doctor suggested a high-fiber diet to prevent diverticular disease? A study in Gastroenterology suggests that advice may not have the promised payoff.

In diverticulosis, small pouches (diverticula) develop and bulge out through weak spots in the walls of the colon. About 40% of men and women develop diverticulosis by age 60. The diverticula usually do not cause any symptoms, but about a third of people develop more serious forms of the disease. These include diverticulitis (infected and inflamed diverticula) and diverticular bleeding.

Stomach bug

How to prevent norovirus from ruining your summer.

In February 2010, the Celebrity Mercury cruise ship departed from Charleston, South Carolina. The 1,800-plus passengers on board were looking forward to a fun-filled vacation in the sunny Caribbean. Instead, more than 400 of them spent their vacation in their cabin bathrooms, plagued by severe stomach pains, vomiting, and diarrhea. The following year, more than 1,300 passengers on 14 cruise ships were stricken with the same gastrointestinal woes.

The illness that's often described as the "cruise ship sickness" is norovirus—a group of viruses that infect the stomach and intestines. Though norovirus has earned a reputation as a cruise-wrecker, it doesn't just strike at sea. It can spread wherever you share food or a confined space with a group of people including restaurants, hospitals, nursing homes, and the airplane that transports you to your summer vacation destination. The CDC estimates that 1 in 15 Americans of all ages will become infected with norovirus each year.

Angina in the intestines mirrors what happens in the heart

Clogged gut arteries can cause pain—and much worse.

The heart's arteries are common hiding places for cholesterol-filled plaque and blood clots. Plaque can limit blood flow during exercise or stress, causing the chest pain or pressure known as angina. Clots can completely block blood flow, causing a heart attack or cardiac arrest. These two perpetrators can do similar things elsewhere in the body. When they interfere with blood flow to the digestive system, the effects can range from a stomachache after every meal to a life threatening emergency.

Gut microbes may affect heart disease risk

But studies in rodents suggesting a link may not play out in people.

You never eat alone. Instead, you share every meal or snack with an entire community — trillions of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes that live in your digestive system. A provocative study suggests that these microorganisms may affect the development of artery-clogging atherosclerosis.

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