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Digestive Health Archive
What is a hiatal hernia?
Ask the doctors
Q. My partner just got diagnosed with a hiatal hernia. What is it, and is it dangerous?
A. Hiatal hernias are very common. They occur when part of the stomach pokes through a natural gap (called a hiatus) in the diaphragm, which is a muscle separating your chest from your abdomen. Normally the esophagus connects with the stomach through this hole, but in some cases, the upper part of the stomach slides upward through the hiatus. The most common cause is weakened musculature that surrounds the hiatus, which can be aggravated by straining during bowel movements, intense coughing, pregnancy, or heavy exertion.
Don’t get upset about indigestion
The recurrent discomfort of indigestion can be puzzling. But there are ways to manage flare-ups without medication.
Everyone experiences occasional indigestion. You enjoy a favorite meal, only you eat at bit too much or too fast. The next thing you know, you feel problems bubbling inside, like an uncomfortable sense of fullness, stomach pain, bloating, or heartburn.
Most of the time, these episodes are harmless. But over time, it's common for indigestion to become more frequent and severe, a condition called chronic dyspepsia or recurring indigestion. The main cause? An aging digestive system.
Gum disease linked to an increased risk for cancer
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
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
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
Heartburn medication update
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.
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.
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:
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