Fort Worth Texas Gastroenterology

AGING AND DIGESTIVE DISEASE

As mentioned previously, a variety of gastrointestinal problems can arise as we age. Some are relatively benign, whereas others can be quite serious. Listed below are some of the more prevalent issues that we tend to see in our patients:

aging and digestive disease

Altered bowel habits: A change in bowel habits is one of the more common issues that we see as our patients age. Issues with both diarrhea and constipation can arise as individuals age; however, constipation often seems to be the more predominant problem. There are several factors that contribute to this, including: decreased intestinal motility (slowing down of the gastrointestinal tract), medication side-effects, decreased physical activity, changes in diet and poor hydration

Diverticulosis: By age 60, it is estimated that approximately 50% of the population will have developed diverticulosis. While most people with diverticulosis never experience any symptoms, some individuals may develop problems with intestinal spasm (cramping), infection/inflammation (diverticulitis) or gastrointestinal bleeding.

Polyps: After age 50, the risk of developing colon polyps begins increasing. Polyps are small, nodular growths which typically form along the internal lining of the colon. While most polyps are benign, some do harbor the potential to become cancerous.

Ulcers: While aging, in and of itself, does not cause ulcers, many commonly prescribed medications do contribute to the development of ulcers. NSAIDs and anti-platelet agents, frequently used in the treatment of arthritis and cardiovascular disease, respectively, can result in gastrointestinal inflammation and ulcer formation. In turn, this can lead to problems with stomach upset, abdominal pain, gastrointestinal bleeding and anemia.

GERD (Acid Reflux): Along with altered bowel habits, GERD is another common problem that develops with age. GERD occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. Factors which can contribute to the development GERD include: obesity/weight gain, decreased gastrointestinal motility, poor eating habits and medication side-effects.

Difficulty Swallowing: Much like the intestines, the motility of the esophagus can also decrease with age. Additionally, long-term acid reflux can result in scarring and tightening of the esophagus. Both of these conditions can make it more difficult to effectively swallow food, liquids and medications.

So, now that we’ve identified some of the more common problems that can develop as we age, what can we do about it? Much like any other health problem, prevention is the best option when it comes to keeping your gastrointestinal tract running smoothly and effectively.

  • Know your medications and their potential side-effects (i.e. Is constipation a side-effect? Is diarrhea? Nausea? Do they cause ulcers?)
  • Stay active. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise 4-5 days per week. This will help with bowel regularity and weight management
  • Drink plenty of fluids/water. Essentially, stay hydrated. This will help with constipation
  • Eat plenty of fiber. Fiber can help regulate your bowel habits and can also help with diverticular disease.
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Get regular health screenings such as screening colonoscopies to help detect colon polyps and upper endoscopies to asses for esophageal damage from chronic acid reflux

We hope the above information has been beneficial. If you have further questions or concerns, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with us. We look forward to seeing you!

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