Digestive conditions are extremely widespread, with approximately 4 in 10 people displaying at least one digestive symptom at any given point. In many cases however, people respond well to treatment where required, be it medicinal or lifestyle changes.
- Usually caused by diet, stress or lifestyle choices
- Can result in significant discomfort
- Treated with medicines and lifestyle changes
If you are experiencing digestive symptoms which are not easing, book an appointment to speak to one of our registered prescribers at a time that suits you. Our online video consultation service allows you to speak to a doctor one-to-one, face-to-face.
What digestion conditions are there?
Stomach ulcers, otherwise known as gastric ulcers, are sores that form on the stomach lining. They can also materialise in the intestine, just beyond the stomach (duodenal ulcers). Stomach ulcers and duodenal ulcers may be referred to as peptic ulcers. The majority of them heal within 1-2 months, and complications are fairly unlikely to develop.
Food poisoning is an illness caused by consuming contaminated food. Typically, it is not serious and a full recovery is made within one week. You may feel and be sick, but symptoms usually pass fairly quickly. Most people do not require any specific treatment, and can recuperate at home.
Sometimes known as the “winter vomiting bug”, norovirus is a stomach bug that results in vomiting and diarrhoea. It may cause quite intense abdominal pain, but it normally resolves within 2 days. It is highly infectious, and you should stay off school or work, and refrain from visiting anyone in hospital, until symptoms have passed.
Diverticulitis is a condition in which small bulges form in the lining of the intestine. These bulges can become inflamed, or get infected, causing sudden, intense symptoms. Antibiotics, paracetamol and short-term dietary adjustments can help to relieve pain. More severe outbreaks of the condition may demand treatment in hospital.
Tapeworms are worms that live in the digestive tract, and may get into the body via raw or undercooked food or drink. They are flat and ribbon-like in appearance, but can usually be treated easily. You may see worms, or bits of them, in your stool; in which case, you should contact your doctor.
What symptoms do these conditions cause?
Symptoms may vary from one digestive condition to the next, but abdominal pain and diarrhoea are common experiences.
Food poisoning and norovirus are both strongly characterised by feeling and being sick, and a high temperature, which also may be experienced if you have diverticulitis. Stomach ulcers and tapeworms can result in weight loss.
Although it is fairly unlikely, stomach ulcers may produce some serious complications. If an ulcer forms where there is a blood vessel, it can lead to internal bleeding, which may make you anaemic and cause you to vomit blood, or pass tar-like stools. You should arrange an appointment with your GP in these circumstances.
Perforation is another severe complication of stomach ulcers. If the stomach lining tears, it may allow the bacteria in your stomach to leak out and infect the lining of the abdomen (peritonitis). This infection can disperse into the blood and lead to sepsis, which may be fatal without treatment.
How are stomach conditions diagnosed?
Food poisoning and norovirus can usually be diagnosed in light of symptoms, while a tapeworm can be identified via a stool sample.
If a doctor suspects that you have a stomach ulcer, they may test you for an Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection. If a clinician believes that you have an H. pylori infection, this can lead to further tests:
- A urea breath test - this consists of being given a drink that comprises of a chemical that is broken down by H. pylori. It is then determined from your breath whether you have an H. pylori infection.
- A stool antigen test - a small stool sample is tested for the presence of the bacteria
- A blood test - a blood sample is taken from you and tested for antibodies to the H. pylori bacteria (antibodies are proteins created in the blood and help to tackle infection). This test has in most cases been replaced by the stool antigen test
If your test results for H. pylori are positive, you will require treatment to get rid of the infection, which can heal the ulcer and stop it from coming back.
In other circumstances, you may be referred for a gastroscopy to establish if there is an ulcer inside the stomach. The hospital procedure involves passing a narrow, flexible tube (an endoscope) with a camera at one end through your mouth and into your stomach and a section of the small intestine (duodenum). A mild sedative injection may be issued prior to the procedure taking place, and your throat may be sprayed with a local anaesthetic to make the passage of the endoscope easier.
The images that are taken typically confirm whether or not there is an ulcer. A small sample of tissue may also be extracted from the stomach or duodenum in order for it to be tested for H. pylori bacteria.
In terms of diagnosing diverticulitis, having assessed your symptoms and established your medical history, a doctor may want to rule out other conditions first, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), coeliac disease or bowel cancer. These conditions present similar symptoms. A clinician may decide to conduct blood tests, and in some cases a colonoscopy or a CT scan, or both.
A colonoscopy consists of inserting a thin tube with a camera at the end (a colonoscope) into your bottom, which is directed into your bowel. A doctor will check for any diverticula or indications of diverticulitis. You will be provided with a laxative prior to the procedure to clear out your bowels.
A colonoscopy shouldn’t lead to any pain, but it can cause discomfort. You may be given the option of pain killing medication and a sedative to help relax you and restrict any discomfort.
A CT scan may be carried out as an alternative procedure to a colonoscopy, or in combination with one (a CT colonography or a virtual colonoscopy). A CT (or virtual) colonography uses CT scans to assess the large bowel (colon) and the back passage (rectum). In the case of a CT colonoscopy, the scan is conducted once you have had the laxative.
What treatments are there for digestive conditions?
Treatment for stomach ulcers depends on the cause. If a stomach ulcer is triggered by an H. pylori bacterial infection, antibiotics and a medication known as a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) are recommended forms of treatment. These same treatments are also advised if a stomach ulcer is caused by a combination of an H. pylori infection and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
In the event that a stomach ulcer is triggered by NSAIDs only, a course of PPI treatment is recommended. Any use of NSAIDs will be assessed, and taking a different painkiller may be advised. Another type of treatment called H2-receptor antagonists is used on occasions as an alternative to PPIs.
In some cases, you may be provided with a further medication known as antacids to ease symptoms on a short-term basis.
To assess whether the ulcer has healed, you may undergo a repeat gastroscopy between 4 and 6 weeks later.
You don’t need to make any adjustments to your lifestyle during treatment. However, avoiding stress, alcohol, spicy foods and smoking can ease your symptoms while your ulcer heals.
The majority of people with food poisoning and norovirus make a full recovery without treatment, with norovirus symptoms resolving themselves within a few days, and food poisoning symptoms passing within a week. You should refrain from going into work or school until the symptoms have stopped for 2 days, as this is when you are particularly infectious. In the case of norovirus, you should also avoid visiting people in hospital until symptoms have cleared up.
A tapeworm infection can typically be treated with a single dosage of a prescription medicine known as niclosamide, or praziquantel. The treatment kills the worm, and it passes out of your body in your stool. A stool sample is taken a couple of months later to check that the treatment has been effective.
Eating a diet high in fibre and taking paracetamol can help to treat diverticulitis. However, a doctor may advise you to stick to a fluid-only regime to begin with for a few days until your symptoms ease. Consuming a low-fibre diet, before moving on to a higher fibre diet, will help to rest the digestive system. You should refrain from taking aspirin and ibuprofen, as they can unsettle the stomach.
More severe cases of diverticulitis may require treatment in hospital, where you can receive antibiotic injections, and stay hydrated and nourished via an intravenous drip. In rare circumstances, surgery may be necessary to treat complications. This typically consists of removing the impacted part of the large intestine.
Talking to a doctor about digestive conditions online
If you think that you may have developed a digestive condition, or are worried about symptoms, you can speak to one of our registered prescribers via our online video consultation service. Book an appointment at a time that is convenient for you.