12 Jul Exploring The Prevalence of Upper GI Issues Among Americans
Increasingly, Americans grapple with upper gastrointestinal (GI) disorders. More than inconveniences, these are serious conditions with the potential to significantly compromise a person’s quality of life.
Upper GI issues include conditions like heartburn, GERD, and celiac disease. These disorders extend beyond isolated health issues and affect aspects of individual wellness, societal productivity, and healthcare resource allocation.
Below, we’ll look at the scope, impact, and methods for their diagnosis and highlight current strategies in the treatment of these conditions.
Diseases of the Upper GI Tract
The most common upper gastrointestinal (GI) issues affecting Americans today include gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcer disease (PUD), and celiac disease, and among the valuable diagnostic tools utilized in the evaluation of such conditions, endoscopy emerges as a remarkable technique.
GERD (aka acid reflux) occurs when our stomach acid flows back (hence “reflux”) into the esophagus (the tube connecting the mouth and stomach).
Reflux can irritate the esophagus lining and cause symptoms such as heartburn and acid indigestion. People with PUD have painful sores (called ulcers) that develop on the stomach lining or upper small intestine. This condition is commonly caused by long-term use of NSAIDs, like aspirin and ibuprofen, or an infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori.
Celiac disease causes damage to the small intestine and is considered an autoimmune disease. When an affected person eats the protein gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, and rye, the body mounts an immune response that leads to poor nutrient absorption as well as the potential to develop anemia and experience delayed growth and weight loss.
The Prevalence of Upper GI Issues in the U.S.
In a 2005 study, researchers found that nearly 45% of Americans surveyed had suffered from some type of upper GI issues in the previous three months – most commonly early satiety/fullness (the inability to finish a meal), heartburn, nausea, and postprandial fullness (feeling full long after a meal).
A study in 2018 showed that 61% of subjects had at least one more general GI symptom in the prior week, typically heartburn/reflux, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and/or constipation. Interestingly, rates were higher in younger, more educated, and otherwise healthy white, non-Hispanic females.
Because upper GI disorders can often lead to a doctor’s appointment (especially when the pain is intense, such as when one has an ulcer), symptoms like diarrhea and bloating may not. So, we’re likely drastically underestimating the prevalence of these conditions.
Diagnosing Gastrointestinal Issues Using Endoscopy
Most upper GI issues are diagnosed using a non-surgical procedure called an endoscopy, which allows doctors to examine the upper esophagus, stomach, and duodenum.
Using tubing with a camera and light on the end, doctors can view pictures of the digestive tract on a monitor and identify the causes of symptoms such as upper abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or difficulty swallowing. In addition to helping diagnose various digestive conditions, an endoscopy can be used to treat conditions, such as bleeding ulcers, or to take a biopsy.
The increasing prevalence of upper GI issues among Americans means it’s crucial to improve awareness about these disorders, their symptoms, and the importance of early diagnosis and treatment. While medical technology offers hope for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment, the goal is ultimately to enhance the quality of life for those affected.