Gut Troubles (NIH News in Health)

Pain, Gassiness, Bloating, and More

But if pain and other gut symptoms go on for weeks or longer, something more serious might be wrong. Digestive system diseases and disorders are very common. Around 60 to 70 million people in the U.S. live with a digestive disease.

It’s important not to ignore symptoms in your gut. Many digestive disorders are easiest to treat when they first develop.


Potential Causes

One of the most serious gut disorders is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), although it’s not very common. IBD occurs when immune system cells in the gut overreact to a perceived threat to your body. Often, that “threat” is the normal bugs that make up the microbiome—the microscopic creatures like bacteria, fungi, and viruses—that live in your gut. This overreaction can damage the digestive (gastrointestinal or GI) tract.

The two main types of IBD are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. “Crohn’s can occur anywhere in the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus,” says Dr. Judy Cho, an IBD expert at Mount Sinai. Ulcerative colitis happens only in the large intestine.

These two diseases also differ in how deeply they can damage tissue. “Ulcerative colitis causes damage in the gut lining,” explains Dr. Dermot McGovern, who studies IBD at Cedars-Sinai. “Crohn’s disease can go all the way through the gut.” Severe cases of Crohn’s can lead to narrowing of the intestines and even holes in the gut.


Other conditions can harm the lining of the stomach and lead to a type of inflammation called gastritis. The most common cause of gastritis is infection with bacteria called Helicobacter pylori. Other causes include the long-term use of some pain medications. If left untreated, gastritis can lead to painful ulcers.

Twelve percent of people in the U.S. have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). “This is a very common disorder. It’s characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits,” says Dr. Anthony Lembo, an IBS researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Researchers don’t understand exactly what causes IBS. It may have different causes in different people. Sometimes it involves problems with how the brain and gut work together.

Other things that can cause pain and discomfort in the GI tract are acid reflux or food sensitivities.

Source: NIH News in Health