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An Overview of Four Gastrointestinal Diseases, from Common to Rare

By Alexandra Fuhs


Nearly 40% of adults suffer from a gastrointestinal disorder. There are many types of disorders, ranging from common (e.g. Crohn’s disease and celiac disease) to widely unheard of (such as Cyclic vomiting syndrome and rumination disorder). This article provides an overview of four gastrointestinal diseases — two common ones that you may have heard of or know someone who is affected, and two rarer ones.


Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. When it is consumed by people with celiac disease, their body prepares an immune response to attack the small intestine, leading to damage on the villi (small projections that line the small intestine and promote nutrient absorption).

Celiac disease can develop at any age. Left untreated, it can lead to a 2x greater risk of developing coronary artery disease and a 4x greater risk of developing bowel cancers. According to celiac.org, the age at which people are diagnosed affects their likelihood of developing another autoimmune condition, with people over 20 having the greatest risk at 34%. Celiac disease is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people.


Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Acid reflux is common and may occur after overeating or eating certain foods. However, GERD is considered recurrent acid reflux and occurs sometimes for unknown reasons. It’s most common in those who are overweight, pregnant, or taking certain medications. Symptoms include pain while swallowing, heartburn, and nausea.

GERD has the potential to worsen without treatment. It can lead to Barrett’s esophagus (which can develop into cancer), various respiratory issues, and esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus). Treatment includes antacids and antibiotics, and possibly surgery for severe cases. GERD affects one billion people worldwide, making it one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders.


Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome

Cyclic vomiting syndrome is characterized by severe vomiting episodes that have no apparent cause. It results in periods of extreme nausea and puking that can last for hours to days and alternate with symptom-free periods. The underlying cause is unknown, making it difficult to diagnose as vomiting is a symptom of many other conditions. Possible causes include hormonal imbalances, digestive challenges, and stress. CVS can lead to dehydration, damage to the esophagus, and tooth decay from the acid. Currently, there is no cure, but individuals can avoid their triggers as well as make lifestyle changes such as eating small meals and getting adequate sleep. The amount of people affected by CVS is unknown, but it is estimated to affect between 4 and 2,000 out of every 100,000 children.


Hirschsprung’s Disease

Hirschsprung’s disease affects the colon and causes difficulties in passing stool. It’s a congenital (present at birth) condition and results from missing nerve cells in the muscles of a newborn’s colon. The missing cells mean that the gut muscles are not stimulated, backing up contents and causing blockages.

The most obvious sign in a newborn is failure to have a bowel movement within 48 hours of birth. There is no clear cause of Hirschsprung’s disease, but risk factors include having a family member with the condition, being male, and having other inherited conditions. The treatment is surgery to remove the diseased part of the colon. The condition affects one in 5,000 babies.


References:

  1. Celiac Disease Foundation. “What is Celiac Disease?”. About Celiac Disease

2. Medical News Today. “Everything you need to know about GERD”, 18 January 2018.

3. Mayo Clinic. “Cyclic vomiting syndrome”. Diseases & Conditions, 10 July 2021.

4. Mayo Clinic. “Hirschsprung’s disease.” Diseases & Conditions, 21 August 2021.

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