A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.
Gastroenteritis, a condition wherein the stomach or intestinal lining becomes inflamed, is a very common health problem. This condition is generally a fall-out of an infection or infestation of parasites. In addition, improper digestive juice production may also damage the lining of the intestines and stomach causing minor disorders, such as acidity, as well as major health problems like peptic ulcer. Inflammation or inflammatory bowel disease may also cause harm to the intestinal lining. In such cases, the damage may cause the rectum as well as the anus to become sore and aggravated. The damaged intestinal lining may also result in tearing of the skin (also known as anal fissure) in the anus or lead to hemorrhoids due to distended veins.
Constipation and diarrhea are among the gastrointestinal disorders that occur most frequently. These conditions occur when the normal muscle contractions that guide the leftover ingested food via the bowel are disrupted.
The digestive juices produced and released in the stomach enclose enzymes and acids that help to break down the ingested foods before they are propelled into the intestines. Normally, the stomach wall is shielded from the digestive acids released in the stomach by a mucus layer, which is secreted by the stomach lining constantly. However, any damage to the stomach lining or production and release of excessive digestive acids are responsible for most of the gastrointestinal problems, as they destroy the mucus layer that protects the stomach lining. Overeating, alcohol and coffee consumption, smoking, bad eating habits and anxiety are often responsible for excessive production of digestive acids in the stomach, which causes indigestion and discomfort. In addition, use of specific medications, such as ASA (acetylsalicylic acid) and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) may also aggravate the stomach lining and even result in ulcers.
Antacids help to counteract the excessive stomach acid, thereby alleviating pain. The antacids that are used most often usually contain aluminum and magnesium. A number of antacids also contain calcium.
As antacids neutralize the stomach acids, they help in preventing inflammation, alleviating pain as well as allowing time for the mucous layer as well as the stomach lining to recover from the damage. Use of antacids in treating ulcers help to prevent the stomach acid from assaulting the damaged stomach lining further and, thereby, allowing the ulcers to cure.
Provided you take the antacids strictly according to your physician’s recommendations or the instructions on the product label, they are generally effectual in alleviating the abdominal distress caused by excessive stomach acids. The pace of action of the antacids differs according to their competence to counteract the acid. In addition, the time of the action of the different antacids also differs, making it necessary to take short-acting medicines very often. While majority of the antacids do not have too many severe side effects, provided you use them sparingly, some of them may result in diarrhea, while here are others that may lead to constipation.
At the same time, it is important that you should not regularly use antacids to put off abdominal pain. If you are taking them on a regular basis, it should essentially be done under the supervision of a physician or healthcare provider, because they have the potential to hold back the symptoms related to any serious health problem. Using any antacid for a prolonged period and then stopping the treatment abruptly may have a counter-effect and result in augmented stomach acid production.
It is important to note that all antacids, irrespective of their chemical composition, have the aptitude to hinder the assimilation of other medications by the body. Hence, in case you are already taking a prescription drug, it is essential that you consult your physician before you start treatment with an antacid.
Generally, a mucus layer protects the linings of the stomach, esophagus, and duodenum from the aggravation caused by the stomach acids. However, any damage to the linings may cause the stomach acid to eat into the basic tissue, leading to a peptic ulcer. When this happens, it causes vomiting, abdominal pain and even loss of appetite. Duodenal ulcers are the most widespread form of peptic ulcer and are less excruciating compared to the other types of peptic ulcers.
Scientists and medical practitioners are yet to ascertain the precise reason for peptic ulcers, but they have been successful in identifying specific factors that often lead to this painful condition. Some of these factors include using ASA or comparable medications regularly, heavy smoking, excessive use of coffee and alcohol, and a demanding lifestyle coupled with unbalanced and hurried meals. It is now believed that a specific bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori, which is present in most people suffering from duodenal ulcers, is a contributory agent. Usually, the first-line treatment for duodenal ulcers involves using an H2 blocker (such as cimetidine, nizatidine, famotidine or ranitidine) or other different anti-ulcer drugs like pirenzepine, omeprazole, sucralfate or misoprostol.
Use of medications helps to shield the ulcers from the damaging action of stomach acid and, hence, allow the basic tissue enough time to heal. Medications like H2 blockers, omeprazole, misoprostol and pirenzepine lessen the quantity of acids produced in the stomach. On the other hand, sucralfate helps to develop a protective covering over the peptic ulcer. In addition, pirenzepine and misoprostol too work to protect the ulcers from further damage.
It takes just a few hours for these medications to alleviate the pain due to peptic ulcers. In majority of the instances, these drugs take anything between four and eight weeks to heal the ulcers. Moreover, these medications have very few adverse effects. However, one H2 blocker called cimetidine may result in confusion in aged people, especially if they use it in excessive dosage. Similarly, use of sucralfate may result in constipation, while misoprostol may cause diarrhea. As these medications may suppress the symptoms related to cancerous stomach ulcers, physicians generally prescribe them when they are certain that the patient has not developed carcinogenic cells.
Generally, physicians do not prescribe H2 blockers for more than six months, as it is yet to be established whether it is safe to use them for a prolonged period. Similarly, physicians also do not recommend using omeprazole for a prolonged period. Sucralfate is generally prescribed for a maximum period of eight weeks at a stretch, because it may possibly hinder the body’s ability to absorb vitamins, including vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K, which are liquefied in fat. Taking vitamin supplement may be necessary if you are using the medication for an extended period.
When the fluidity as well as the occurrence of bowel movements increases, it leads to diarrhea. In some instances, diarrhea is helpful, as it helps the speedy removal of detrimental substances from the intestine. Various factors may be responsible for diarrhea and some of the most frequent causes include food poisoning, viral infections, and parasite infestation. However, diarrhea may also accompany other diseases. It may even be a side effect of using specific medications and may occur after a cancer patient undergoes radiation therapy. Often, anxiety may also lead to diarrhea.
Normally, diarrhea is not a serious health condition and in most cases it clears up fast even without using any medication. Nevertheless, the best treatment for diarrhea is to keep away from food and consume lots of clear fluids, especially water. As rehydration solutions enclose sugar, sodium and potassium salts, it is recommended that you use them to put off diarrhea as well as chemical imbalances, especially in small children. However, it is necessary to check with your physician in case there is no improvement in the condition even after 48 hours of a diarrheal attack. You should right away consult your physician if your stool contains blood. People suffering from vomiting and acute abdominal pain should also check with their physician. In addition, people who have just come back from a foreign land and are suffering from diarrhea should also visit a physician. Children and aged people suffering from this condition should also avoid self-treatment and check with a doctor.
Acute diarrhea may damage the body’s ability to absorb other medications and if you are already using a prescription drug, you should consult your physician. Women using oral contraceptives may also require taking additional measures of birth control when they are suffering from diarrhea.
You may use medications, like loperamide or narcotics, which directly work on the bowel to cure non-specific diarrhea. Alternatively, you may also use adsorbent and bulk-forming agents to treat this condition. At the same time, you may use anti-spasmodic medications to alleviate pain.
It is worth mentioning here that different types of drugs used for treating diarrhea work in different ways. While the narcotic drugs reduce the muscles propulsive activities to ensure that fecal substances pass more sluggishly through the bowel, adsorbents and bulk-forming agents regulate water in addition to irritants in the bowel, thereby turning out larger as well as firmer bowel movements not so often.
Precisely speaking, anti-diarrheal medicines work to lessen the pressure that moves bowels. Anti-spasmodic drugs and narcotic medications may help to alleviate the abdominal pain associated with diarrhea. In fact, excessive use of any anti-diarrheal medication may result in constipation.
Provided narcotic drugs usually do not cause any side effects when they are used in measured dosages and only for a limited period. Nevertheless, you should exercise caution while using medications if you are suffering from diarrhea due to any infection, because they have a tendency to inhibit the removal of pathogenic microbes from the intestine. Moreover, you should necessarily drink a lot of water when you are taking any medication to treat diarrhea. It is advised that you should never take an anti-spasmodic or narcotic drug along with a bulk-forming agent. Taking them together may result in the formation of a large mass and this could hinder the bowel movements.
When the frequent movement of your bowels is obstructed and it is also solid as well as hard to pass, it means you have constipation. It is an indication that your diet does not contain adequate amounts of fiber, which provides the bulk that ensures that your feces are not only soft, but it also passes without any difficulty. Therefore, the easiest way to prevent constipation is to drink lots of water and also consume fiber-rich foods, such as more vegetables and fruits, in addition to breads made from whole grains. Generally, we use laxatives to get relief from constipation. However, many physicians also recommend using small enemas occasionally to cure constipation.
At times, constipation may also be caused when you overlook the urge to defecate. In such instances, the feces become dry and, therefore, hard and difficult to pass. In addition, they are also very small to encourage the muscles the force them via the intestine. Specific medications, such as tricyclic anti-depressants, antacids enclosing aluminum, and narcotic analgesics, too may cause constipation. In addition to these, a number of ailments like hypothyroidism may also result in constipation.
Occasionally, constipation may also be a symptom related to a serious health condition. Therefore, it is advisable that you check with a physician if you notice any change in your bowel habits and it remains for over a week.
Laxatives affect the large intestine by accelerating the pace of fecal substance movement through the bowel or by augmenting its water and/ or bulk content. Stimulants encourage the contraction of the bowel muscles by boosting the pace at which the fecal substances pass via the intestine. Laxatives that help formation of bulk in the bowel also help water absorption in the bowel, which, in turn, enhances the amount of fecal substances as well as making the bowel softer and its passage through the intestine easier. Lactulose helps fluid build-up in the intestine, while laxatives that contain salt or saline laxatives put off the passage of water from the large intestine by means of an osmotic action and without affecting the pace of bowel movement. Stool softeners as well as lubricant preparations using mineral oils also help to make the bowels softer and easily pass through the intestines without causing any difference in their bulk volume. However, using these mineral oil lubricants for a prolonged period often causes the formation of a coating and this may obstruct the assimilation of a number of essential vitamins into the body.
Surprisingly, even use of laxatives may result in diarrhea, provided they are taken in excessive dosage and also when medications used to treat constipation are used in higher doses. In fact, prolonged use of laxatives has a major health risk, as it may develop a dependence on them for regular bowel movements. Therefore, you need to stop using a laxative immediately when your normal bowel actions are restored. Never continue using them for a prolonged period or in elevated doses.
Before concluding, it is important to note that you should never give laxatives to children, except in unusual conditions. Even in such circumstances, laxatives should be given to children only on a physician’s advice.
Medicaments for inflammatory bowel disease
The term ‘inflammatory bowel disease’ refers to specific health problems wherein the intestinal walls as well as different other portions of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, also called the digestive tract, turn out to be inflamed, resulting in symptoms including intermittent pain attacks, a common felling of being unwell, and recurrent diarrhea, which at times contains blood. Other symptoms of this condition include loss of appetite as well as poor assimilation of the ingested food by the body, which eventually leads to weight loss.
While the precise reasons for these health problems are yet to be ascertained, a number of infections, use of antibiotics and too much tension actually enhance the chances of developing these disorders and even the relentlessness of attacks.
Physicians broadly categorize this inflammatory bowel disease under two heads - ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, which is also referred to as regional enteritis. People suffering from Crohn’s disease may experience inflammation of any part of their gastrointestinal tract. However, in most cases, this condition affects the small intestine and colon. On the other hand, ulcerative colitis involves the inflammation and ulceration of the large intestine. Ulcerative colitis is usually accompanied by blood-stained diarrhea.
Several medications, including mesalamine (5-aminosalicylic acid), sulfasalazine, corticosteroids, and metronidazole are used to cure Crohn’s disease. In fact, the first three medications are also employed for treating ulcerative colitis. On rare occasions, physicians prescribe immunosuppressant drugs like azathioprine to treat Crohn’s disease as well as ulcerative colitis. People who suffer from Crohn’s disease are often given nutritional supplements too. They may also be given anti-diarrheal agents, but extreme caution should be exercised while using these medications. People suffering from severe cases of Crohn’s disease may need to undergo surgery also.
Use of corticosteroids, mesalamine and sulfasalazine works to slow down the inflammatory process, thereby allowing the healing of the tissues damaged by the condition. These medications work in dissimilar ways to put off the movement of white blood cells into the walls of the bowel, which is considered to be partially responsible for inflamed bowel.
These medications not only treat the attacks, but also provide relief from the symptoms related to these conditions quite fast. While it takes only some days to alleviate the symptoms, they also help to improve the patient’s general health in a few weeks. Among these medications, mesalamine and sulfasalazine are useful in providing lasting respite from the symptoms related to ulcerative colitis.
Immunosuppressant medications are only used for treating severe cases of ulcerative colitis, wherein the patient has not benefited from using other medications, including those mentioned above. Moreover, these medications are strictly administered under the direct supervision of a physician or a competent healthcare professional. It is important to note that use of immunosuppressant medications and corticosteroids may produce severe side effects and, hence, physicians only prescribe these drugs after being sure that their benefits are more important than the risks of using them.
If you are using immunosuppressant drugs or corticosteroids, you should continue using them as per the instructions of your physician. Discontinuing these medications all of a sudden may cause the condition to aggravate suddenly. Before stopping these medications, physicians generally reduce their dosage gradually, even when they are prescribed for a short course for treating an attack. It is also advisable that medications used to treat diarrhea should never be used regularly, as they have the potential to suppress any indication of deterioration of the condition. Regular use of these medications may also help in dilating the bowel abruptly or even cause it to rupture or burst.
Medicaments for rectal and anal disorders
The rectum (the end of the large intestine) and the anus (the place where the rectum opens) are most frequently affected by a common health problem called piles (hemorrhoids). The swelling, clotting or irritation of the hemorrhoidal veins, frequently caused by long hours of local back pressure, for instance the condition due to pregnancy or a job that requires sitting on your chair for a prolonged period, are responsible for hemorrhoids or piles. People suffering from hemorrhoids usually experience pain as well as irritation in their rectal and anal regions, especially when they are defecating or afterward. Constipation and putting pressure on the affected area during passage of a bowel movement worsen the condition. At times, hemorrhoids may result in bleeding or formation of clots in the distended veins causing acute pain. This condition is known as thrombosed hemorrhoids.
Fissure (a condition wherein painful cracks develop in the anal region) and pruritus ani (itching in the region of the anus) are two other widespread health disorders that affect the anus.
Several prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications are available in the market for treating this type of problem related to the anus and rectum. In addition, taking tepid, herbal sitz baths also aids in providing relief from the excruciating pain and curing these conditions.
It is, however, advisable that you should not attempt to self-treat hemorrhoids, as doing so may not always cure the condition and also postpone the diagnosis of a possibly more severe bowel problem. Hence, check with your physician right away if you notice any symptom related to hemorrhoids. This is all the more important if your condition is accompanied by bleeding from the rectum.
Medicaments treatment for gallstones
Gallstones are a widespread health problem associated with the gallbladder, the organ that stores as well as concentrates bile - a digestive juice turned out by the liver. When food is digested, bile is transported from the gallbladder to the small intestine through the bile duct. It facilitates fat digestion in the small intestine. Bile comprises a number of elements, including bile salts, bile acid and bile pigments. In addition, it also encloses substantial amounts of cholesterol that is liquefied in bile acid. However, some amount of this cholesterol is not dissolved when there is an increase in the quantity of cholesterol or if the quantity of bile acid decreases. This additional amount of bile may build-up inside the gallbladder to form gallstones.
Although a person may have gallstones, he/ she may not be aware of this, because they may remain in the gallbladder for several years and still not cause any perceptible symptom. However, they cause excruciating pain when they get stuck inside the bile duct, obstructing the normal course of bile. In many cases, this may even lead to infections and inflammations.
If the gallstones mainly comprise cholesterol, it is possible to dissolve them by using medications. Nevertheless, if these stones include large amounts of other substances, for instance, calcium, or when a stone gets stuck inside the bile duct, it may be necessary for the patient to undergo surgery to remove the stone. Ursodiol is the most common medication used to dissolve gallstones.
In fact, bile naturally contains the substance called ursodiol. This substance is involved in a chemical development in the liver that controls the quantity of cholesterol in the bloodstream by regulating the quantity of cholesterol that is delivered to bile. When the amount of cholesterol present in bile is decreased, it enables the bile acids to commence work to dissolve the stone formed inside the gallbladder. For best results, treatment with ursodiol should always go together with a diet that is low in cholesterol content, but rich in fiber.
Normally, it may take as many as two years to completely dissolve gallstones using medications. Hence, the results of using medications to cure gallstones are never immediate. On the other hand, use of these medications may cause slight adverse effects, mostly diarrhea. You should check with your physician right away if you experience any such side effect and in most instances he/ she will probably adjust the dosage of your medication. People taking medications to dissolve gallstones are monitored regularly and need to undergo X-ray or ultrasound examinations.
Even if the treatment with medications is successful in removing gallstones, the problem may reappear when the patient discontinues taking ursodiol. In a number of instances, physicians may advise the patient to continue therapy with medications and dietary restrictions even after the gallstone has dissolved and eliminated from the body. This is necessary to ensure that the problem does not occur again.
Generally, physicians do not prescribe ursodiol to people suffering from liver problems, as this medication has the potential to hinder the normal functioning of the liver.
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