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Digestive Health Archive

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Gum disease linked to an increased risk for cancer

Updated October 1, 2020

News briefs

Having gum disease increases your risk for many health problems other than tooth loss, such as heart disease. To add to the list, a study from Harvard summarized in a letter published online July 20, 2020, by the journal Gut suggests that the microbes camping out between your teeth and gums may affect your risk for cancers of the stomach and esophagus. Harvard scientists analyzed health data from two large studies that included almost 150,000 men and women. In up to 28 years of follow-up, people with a history of periodontal (gum) disease were 43% more likely to develop esophageal cancer and 52% more likely to develop gastric (stomach) cancer compared with people whose gums were healthier. The risk was even higher in those with gum disease severe enough to cause tooth loss. The study is observational and doesn't prove that gum disease causes cancer, but it could mean that someday doctors will include a look at your gum health when assessing your overall risk. Fortunately, it's easy to prevent gum disease. The American Dental Association recommends that you brush your teeth twice per day, floss at least once per day, and get a dental exam and cleaning regularly.

Image: © Ridofranz/Getty Images

Tips to avoid constipation

Updated August 1, 2020

Addressing unhealthy habits or using a fiber supplement could be all it takes to keep your system moving.

You're not alone if you kicked your diet into comfort food overdrive this year. Sales of processed foods — such as chips, sugary cereals, and macaroni-and-cheese — surged in the spring of 2020, as coronavirus-triggered lockdowns took hold in the United States.

And if you gave up your healthy diet in favor of starchy sweets, you may have experienced bouts of constipation. "Starchy, processed foods often do not have much in the way of fiber or liquid, which can lead to decreased bulk and lubrication needed for regularity," says Dr. Judy Nee, a gastroenterologist with Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Aspirin linked to fewer digestive tract cancers

Updated August 1, 2020

In the journals

Scientists continue to explore the health benefits versus risks of aspirin therapy. One new analysis suggests that taking aspirin may protect against several types of digestive tract cancers. The results were published online April 1, 2020, by Annals of Oncology.

Researchers examined 113 observational studies of cancer in the general population. They found that individuals who took aspirin regularly — at least one or two tablets a week — had significantly lower rates of cancers of the bowel, stomach, gallbladder, esophagus, pancreas, and liver, compared with people who did not take aspirin.

The lowdown on the low-FODMAP diet

Updated July 30, 2020
Studies show that a diet that eliminates or lowers consumption of low-FODMAP foods can reduce symptoms for many people with irritable bowel syndrome. But the process is time-consuming and can be confusing, so it is best undertaken under the supervision of a dietitian.

Heartburn medication update

Updated June 1, 2020

New information may affect your approach to treatment.

Millions of people turn to prescription and over-the-counter medications to cope with heartburn from gastroesophageal reflux disease or other stomach conditions. But navigating the risks of heartburn remedies can leave a sour taste in your mouth, since some have been tied to health concerns. Here's what you need to know about two mainstays of treatment, and how the latest developments may affect you.

H2 blockers

Histamine2-receptor antagonists, better known as H2 blockers — such as famotidine (Pepcid) and cimetidine (Tagamet) — are available over the counter or by prescription. They block a chemical that signals the stomach to produce acid, and are the go-to drugs when an antacid like calcium carbonate (Tums) or aluminum hydroxide (Maalox) isn't strong enough.

Gastritis

Updated April 7, 2020

What is It?

Gastritis is an inflammation of the stomach lining. The lining of the stomach often looks red, irritated and swollen, and it may have raw areas that can bleed.


 

Infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria — In addition to causing gastritis, H. pylori infections have been linked to the development peptic ulcer disease, open sores inside the stomach or part of the small intestine. However, many people have H. pylori in their stomach and have no symptoms.Many different illnesses and irritants — acting either alone or in combination — can trigger the inflammation of gastritis. Some of the most common triggers include:

Bowel Obstruction

Updated February 25, 2020

What Is It?

In a bowel obstruction (intestinal obstruction), a blockage prevents the contents of the intestines from passing normally through the digestive tract. The problem causing the blockage can be inside or outside the intestine. Inside the intestine, a tumor or swelling can fill and block the inside passageway of the intestine. Outside the intestine, it is possible for an adjacent organ or area of tissue to pinch, compress or twist a segment of bowel.

A bowel obstruction can occur in the small bowel (small intestine) or large bowel (large intestine or colon). Also, a bowel obstruction can be total or partial, depending on whether any intestinal contents can pass through the obstructed area.

Gastroenteritis In Adults

Updated February 25, 2020

What Is It?

Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the intestines that causes diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, loss of appetite, and other symptoms of digestive upset. In adults, the two most common causes of gastroenteritis are viral and bacterial infections:

  • Viral gastroenteritis — In otherwise healthy adults, viral infections of the digestive tract are often responsible for mild episodes of gastroenteritis. These viral infections include the Norwalk virus, rotaviruses, adenoviruses and other agents.

    The viruses are very contagious, and usually spread from one person to another on unwashed hands, or by close contact with an infected person, such as sharing food or eating utensils. Viral gastroenteritis often spreads very easily in institutions and other situations where people live in close quarters, such as prisons, nursing homes, cruise ships, schools, college dorms and public campgrounds.

    The viruses also can be spread when someone either touches an infected person's stool or touches surfaces contaminated with infected stool. For this reason, health care professionals and child care workers have an especially high risk of viral gastroenteritis, particularly if they do not wash their hands thoroughly after dealing with soiled diapers, bedpans or bathroom fixtures.

    In some circumstances, the agents that cause viral gastroenteritis also can be carried in water or food, especially in drinking water or commercial shellfish that have been contaminated by sewage runoff. Infected food handlers who don't follow proper sanitary procedures also can spread viral gastroenteritis in meals served in restaurants and cafeterias.
  • Bacteria — Salmonella, shigella, Campylobacter jejuniE. coli and many other types of bacteria can cause gastroenteritis. They can be spread by close contact with an infected person, or by drinking or eating infected food or water. In some cases, the disease is caused by a toxin that is produced by bacteria growing on food that has been prepared or stored improperly. If a person eats this germ-filled food, symptoms of gastroenteritis are triggered either by the bacteria themselves or by their irritating byproducts. Symptoms from a toxin usually begin within a few hours. Symptoms from the bacteria can occur within a few days.

Each year in the United States, millions of people develop gastroenteritis by eating contaminated food, while millions more suffer from mild bouts of viral gastroenteritis. In otherwise healthy adults, both forms of gastroenteritis tend to be mild and brief, and many episodes are never reported to a doctor. However, in the elderly and people with weakened immune defenses, gastroenteritis sometimes can produce dehydration and other dangerous complications. Even in robust adults, certain types of aggressive bacteria occasionally cause more serious forms of food poisoning that can cause high fever and severe gastrointestinal symptoms, such as bloody diarrhea.

Hiatal Hernia

Updated February 25, 2020

What Is It?

A hernia occurs when part of an internal organ or body part protrudes through an opening into an area where it shouldn't. A hiatal hernia is named for the hiatus, an opening in the diaphragm between your chest and your stomach. Normally, the esophagus (the tube that carries food to the stomach) goes through this opening. In a hiatal hernia, part of the stomach and/or the section where the stomach joins the esophagus (called the gastroesophageal junction) slips through the hiatus into the chest.

There are two types of hiatal hernias:

  • Sliding — A part of the stomach and the gastroesophageal junction slip into the chest. Sliding hiatal hernias are common, especially in smokers, overweight people and women older than 50. These hernias are related to naturally occurring weaknesses in the tissues that normally anchor the gastroesophageal junction to the diaphragm and to activities or conditions that increase pressure within the abdomen. These activities or conditions include persistent or heavy coughing, vomiting, straining while defecating, sudden physical exertion and pregnancy.
  • Paraesophageal — The gastroesophageal junction remains in its proper place, and a fold of the stomach slips into the chest, pinched between the gastroesophageal junction and the diaphragm. Of the two types of hiatal hernias, paraesophageal hernias are more likely to cause severe symptoms.

Symptoms

Sliding hiatal hernias may not cause any symptoms, or they may cause heartburn that is worse when you lean forward, strain or lie down. There may be chronic belching and, sometimes, regurgitation (backflow of stomach contents into the throat).

Keep your digestion moving

Updated February 1, 2020

Your digestive system can become more irregular with age, but there are ways to make everything run smoothly.

Your body goes through many changes during your life, and one of the most drastic involves how your digestive system functions.

"Digestion is a constant evolution," says Dr. Kyle Staller, director of the gastrointestinal motility laboratory at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. "Expect to have new issues arise as you age."

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