solutions to common digestive problems

Solutions to Common Digestive Problems

The meal was great, but its aftermath literally made you sick.

When the digestive system doesn't work the way it's supposed to, ailments arise that cause pain and discomfort such as acid reflux disease—heartburn—and gallbladder disease.

Sooner or later, nearly every adult experiences heart burn. Acid reflux is the result of stomach acids churning up from the stomach back into the esophagus. It causes a burning sensation in the middle of the chest and throat, and leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth.

Occasional acid reflux can be treated or prevented with over-the-counter medication—especially for younger, healthy patients. However, when heartburn persists over an extended period of time, an exam called an upper endoscopy may be performed. This test can detect early changes in the lining of the esophagus that can lead to esophageal cancer. Thanks to advanced technology, a biopsy can be be taken without the need for an incision. 

Available only at Virtua Memorial Hospital is an innovative minimally invasive technology called endoscopic ultrasound with fine needle aspiration. It's used to diagnose and treat certain patients with pancreatic, esophageal and other GI cancers.

Tips to prevent heartburn

  • Stay away from high fat content foods such as hamburgers and fried chicken.
  • Quit chocolate and caffeine—these are also offenders.
  • Close the kitchen two to three hours before going to sleep. After dinner snacking keeps stomach acids working at a time when you want everything in your body to calm down.
  • See your doctor for heartburn that persists for several weeks.

Is it a gallbladder attack? 

Gallbladder attacks are another common digestive problem, and the culprit behind them is gallstones. These "stones" are mostly hardened cholesterol that creates painful blockages in the gallbladder. The attacks usually occur after eating a fatty meal and can last for hours. Symptoms include pain on the right side of the body under the rib cage or in the belly area, and/or pain under the right shoulder blade. Nausea, vomiting and fever may accompany the attack.

Call your physician if you have experienced an attack. If the pain is severe and persists, go to the nearest emergency department because, in a worst case scenario, the gallbladder could rupture.

Sometimes, the stones that cause a gallbladder attack can be dissolved with medication. Often, surgery is required to remove the stones and the gallbladder. This procedure, called a cholecystectomy, can be done using a minimally invasive technique.

What are the risks for gallbladder problems? 

  • Women who are pregnant, use hormone replacement therapy, or take birth control pills
  • Men and women over age 60
  • Family history of gallstones
  • Taking cholesterol-lowering drugs
  • Obesity

If you suffer from persistent heartburn or gallbladder attacks, perhaps it's time to have your symptoms checked out. To make an appointment with a Virtua gastroenterologist, call 1-888-VIRTUA-3.

Updated June 6, 2016