There’s something about digestive difficulties that makes them hard to discuss in polite company—which leaves many of us suffering one problem or another in silence. What’s more, digestive disorders are placing a “growing burden, causing an unprecedented number of clinic visits and hospitalizations. Yet fixes can be as simple as making informed lifestyle changes or taking Peppermint oil and soluble fiber, for example, can help people with irritable bowel syndrome.

Here’s a rundown of the latest common gastrointestinal problems:

Reflux

Symptoms of reflux, such as heartburn, are among the most common digestive ills. In a Swedish study, 6 percent of people reported experiencing reflux symptoms daily and 14 percent had them at least weekly. Such frequent symptoms may indicate a person has GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease. Aside from being painful, GERD can harm the esophagus over time or even lead to esophageal cancer.

 

Heartburn
Typically involves a “hot or burning feeling rising up from the center of the abdomen area and into the chest under the breastbone or sternum,” “It may be accompanied by a sour taste in the mouth, or hypersalivation, or even finding food or fluid in your mouth,” particularly at night. Pregnancy, some medications, and consuming alcohol or certain foods can cause heartburn. Kids under age 12 and some adults may have GERD without heartburn, instead experiencing asthma-like symptoms, trouble swallowing, or a dry cough.

Treatment options include drugs that reduce acid levels, such as the proton pump inhibitors Aciphex, Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec, and Protonix and the H2 blockers Axid, Pepcid, Tagamet, and Zantac. But taking medication is not without risk. In 2008, a study found that a proton pump inhibitor may weaken the heart-protective effect of the blood thinner Plavix in patients taking both medications. In severe cases of GERD, surgeons can tighten a loose muscle between the stomach and esophagus to inhibit the upward flow of acid. Laparoscopic surgery, which involves small incisions, has been found to lessen scarring and shorten recovery time compared with open procedures.

Gallstones
Can get blamed for symptoms caused by other, more elusive culprits, such as irritable bowel syndrome, An ultrasound test might pick them up while missing the real problem. If you’re told you need to have gallstones out but they’re not bothering you, get a second opinion, Removal may be necessary if the stones instigate inflammation or infection of the gallbladder, pancreas, or liver. This can happen if a stone moving out of the gallbladder gets stuck—blocking the flow of bile—in the ducts between the liver and the small intestine.

The pain of a gallstone lodged in a duct usually comes on quickly—in the right upper abdomen, between the shoulder blades, or under the right shoulder—and means a trip to the ER is needed, as may fever, vomiting, nausea, or pain lasting more than five hours.
Obesity
Is a risk factor for gallstones, and it’s theorized that they develop because of a shortage of fiber and an excess of fat in the western diet. Losing weight—then regaining it—also seems to set the stage for gallstones. In a 2006 study of men, the more frequent the weight cycling and the larger the number of pounds shed and regained, the greater the odds of gallstones. Women, especially those who are pregnant or taking birth control pills, face increases in gallstone likelihood as well.