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Constipation affects most people at some point in time. A person is considered to be constipated if they have three or fewer bowel movements in a week or if they do have a bowel movement they are hard, dry or painful. Depending on how often a bowel movement normally occurs will determine what is considered to be “infrequent” for each individual patient, but constipation is usually defined as fewer than three movements a week.


Diarrhea involves having bowel movements that are watery and loose at least three times in a day. It may also cause a sense of urgency, cramps and stomach upset. Diarrhea can be brought on by bacteria, parasites, disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, medication or food intolerances. In most cases, diarrhea is not a long-lasting or serious condition. However, if it lingers for more than three days, is accompanied by a fever or severe abdominal pain or you notice blood in your stool, it is important to visit your doctor for an examination.

Crohn's Disease

Crohn’s disease is a disorder that causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It is part of a group of diseases known as inflammatory bowel disease. The inflammation is usually found in the small intestine (the ileum), but can occur in any area of the GI tract, which stretches from the mouth to the anus. Crohn’s is an inflammatory bowel disease, which, like irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis, causes swelling of the intestines. The causes of Crohn’s disease are not entirely known, but it is believed that people with Crohn’s have abnormal immune-system reactions, in which food and bacteria are mistaken for foreign substances. When the immune system tries to attack these substances in the digestive tract, inflammation in the intestines is the result.

Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammation of the rectum and colon. It is part of a group of diseases known as inflammatory bowel disease. Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation and ulcers in the lining of the rectum and colon. The ulcers can flare up and cause painful symptoms which can eventually lead to colon cancer. While ulcerative colitis usually begins between the ages of 15 and 30, many people over the age of 50 can also develop the disease. Thought to be an autoimmune disease, the cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown, yet there is a tendency for patients with ulcerative colitis to have a close family relative with the same disease. Stress and other environmental factors may aggravate symptoms of ulcerative colitis, they are not the cause of the disease. Symptoms of ulcerative colitis occur in flare-ups that can be sudden and severe or begin gradually with mild symptoms. Depending on the severity of the inflammation, people may experience the disease differently.

Microscopic Colitis

Microscopic colitis is an inflammatory condition that affects the large intestine (colon) and causes persistent watery diarrhea. Microscopic colitis must be diagnosed with a microscope. There are two forms of microscopic colitis. Lymphocytic colitis results from abundant white cells in the superficial colon lining causing inflammation. Collagenous colitis occurs when protein (collagen) material accumulates in the colon lining causing symptoms. Microscopic colitis causes profuse watery diarrhea 4-8 times per day. Fecal incontinence, abdominal pain, and weight loss are less common complaints. Diarrhea can resolve spontaneously without medical intervention. Symptoms may occur regularly then remit or go away for long periods of time (spontaneous remission).

Bloating and Gas Disorders

Bloating occurs when gas builds up in the stomach or intestines as the body breaks food down, causing the abdomen to become swollen. Symptoms of bloating may include mild discomfort or pain in the abdominal area and excessive gas, or flatulence. Many cases of bloating can be resolved by making dietary changes, eating at a slower pace, or taking over-the-counter antacids to help break up gas. If the condition does not improve with such changes, or the patient experiences chest pain, bloody stools or severe abdominal pain, it is important to consult a doctor, since these symptoms may be a sign of a more serious digestive problem.


Heartburn is a painful, burning sensation that occurs in either the chest or the throat. Heartburn occurs when stomach acid travels up into the esophagus, which is the portion of the digestive tract that transports food from the mouth to the stomach. Although heartburn is usually temporary, for some individuals it may develop into a chronic problem. While heartburn can exist as a condition on its own, it is also a common symptom of a more serious condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. Patients who experience heartburn more than twice a week may suffer from GERD, a chronic disorder that occurs when stomach acid, used for digestion, regurgitates or refluxes into the esophagus, causing inflammation and damage to the lining of the esophagus. If symptoms such as heartburn are ignored, GERD may eventually cause extensive damage to the esophagus.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS or spastic colon, is a group of chronic symptoms that are caused by a disorder of the gastrointestinal tract. IBS is not a disease, but a functional disorder, where the bowel is not able to function correctly. In most cases, IBS can be treated effectively and does not cause permanent damage to the colon like other intestinal disorders. The causes of IBS are unknown. It is believed bacterial overgrowth in the small bowel or SIBO and an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the colon can cause the nerves and muscles in the bowels to either contract or relax, resulting in cramping or pain. These muscles may force food to pass quickly through the intestines resulting in gas, bloating and diarrhea. It is thought that these muscles may be reacting to certain stimulants which may include food, stress factors, hormones or other illnesses and medications.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease, also known as celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is an autoimmune disease that affects children and adults. It is a chronic digestive disorder that results in reaction to foods that contain gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. It is most often found in foods like bread, pasta, and pizza crust, but can also be found in products like medicine and lipstick. While this condition was once considered rare, it now affects more than 2 million people in the United States. When gluten is consumed, the villi, which absorb nutrients from food and are located in the small intestine, attack themselves and prevent food from being absorbed into the bloodstream. This leads to malabsorption.

Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms that may be caused by a number of conditions. Some of these conditions include acute gastritis, signals from the brain, reaction from medication, obstruction of the bowel or another unrelated illness. Acute gastritis is the most common cause of nausea and vomiting and is characterized by an inflammation of the stomach. Inflammation can be caused by an infection, stomach flu, food poisoning, peptic ulcer disease or other stomach irritants. Relieving nausea and vomiting is usually done by treating the underlying cause of the symptoms. Resting the stomach by only consuming clear liquids can help ease the stomach back to a healthy state.

Peptic Ulcer Disease

A peptic ulcer is a sore or lesion that develops in the lining of the esophagus, stomach or duodenum. It is commonly believed that ulcers form as a result of stress or poor eating habits. It has been found, however, that 90 percent of ulcers are caused by Helicobacter pylori, also known as H. pylori, a bacterium that lives on the lining of the stomach. Other causes of an ulcer may include smoking, caffeine, alcohol, stress, and excessive use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents, or NSAIDs.

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Dalia Ibrahim M.D. is a board certified gastroenterologist ensuring premium and personalized medical care for all of your digestive health needs.