Many health issues can affect the bowel, which includes the small and large intestines. The small intestine is an important organ for digestion because it produces enzymes or digestive juices to help break down food. The small intestine also absorbs nutrients from food. There are 3 parts to the small intestine, the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum. The duodenum is connected to the stomach, and receives bile from the gallbladder and liver, as well as digestive enzymes from the pancreas to help digest the food. The partially digested food moves through the jejunum and into the ileum, where most of the nutrient absorption occurs. The ileum then transitions into the large intestine, or the colon. The colon is where water and salts are reabsorbed. By the time digested material reaches the colon, most of the nutrients have already been absorbed and the material is mostly fiber. The digested material is moved through the ascending, transverse, and descending colon, and finally through the rectum as stool. Here are some health issues in the bowel that can affect men and women.
1 - Ulcer Diseases
In one major form of ulcer disease, ulcers form in the stomach or the duodenum, which is the first part of the small intestine. Infection with H. pylori bacteria or chronic use of anti-inflammatory drugs predisposes the formation of ulcers. Symptoms include abdominal pain, weight loss, dark stools, anemia, and loss of appetite. In severe cases, the ulcers can cause bleeding and bloody stools, requiring immediate surgical attention. Ulcers are most common in people aged 25-65, but can also occur in children as well. Treatment includes protecting the gastric and small intestinal tissue from acids. It is also important to test for H. pylori infection and receive treatment if positive for infection.
2 - Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is caused by an immune reaction to gluten. It is a genetic disease and tends to run in families. Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Ingestion of gluten leads to chronic inflammation in the small intestines. Damage to the small intestinal wall inhibits absorption of vitamins and nutrients. Symptoms include vitamin deficiency including iron deficiency anemia and decreased bone density from vitamin D deficiency. Management of Celiac disease includes eating a gluten-free diet. If symptoms persist even with a gluten-free diet, medications or immunotherapy may be needed and a gastroenterologist should be consulted. It should be noted that many people claim to have celiac disease, but it is rarer than many people would have you believe.
3 - Crohn's Disease
Crohn's disease causes ulcers and inflammation to occur anywhere in the gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus. Both children and adults can be affected, and there is a genetic predisposition. Symptoms include, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, weight loss, and fever. Stools may be bloody. Symptoms can also occur outside the GI tract, including anterior uveitis, osteoporosis, kidney stones, and gallstones. Diagnosis is made by laboratory tests such as fecal calprotectin. Endoscopy and biopsies are also helpful in diagnosis. Although this is a lifelong disease with no definitive cure, flare-ups are managed with appropriate medications and other types of immunotherapy. There is an increased risk of cancer, osteoporosis, and depression in Crohn's disease afflicted people.
4 - Ulcerative Colitis
Ulcerative colitis is similar to Crohn's disease in that it causes chronic inflammation, but ulcerative colitis only affects the large intestine, or the colon. The entire colon may be affected or just the rectum. Infection with Salmonella or Campylobacter increases the risk of developing ulcerative colitis. There is also a genetic component, so a family history also increases risk. Main symptoms are abdominal pain, diarrhea, and bloody stools. Diagnosis is confirmed by endoscopy or colonoscopy. There is an increased risk of colon cancer, so routine colonoscopies need to be performed after diagnosis.
5 - Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning other diagnoses such as Crohn's disease, Celiac disease, or ulcerative colitis must be ruled out before making this diagnosis. It is more common in women than men, and mostly affects people in their twenties and thirties. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, or constipation that is associated with bowel movements. Symptoms must have occurred at least 3 days a week for 3 months in order for criteria to be met for diagnosis. Treatment consists mostly of lifestyle changes such as healthy diet, exercise, and psychological therapy.