Causes, diagnosis, and treatment of some of the most common swallowing disorders
Swallowing is like breathing; we barely think about it until something goes wrong. Swallowing disorders (also known as dysphagia) are more common that one might think.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association explains it like this: “We all have problems swallowing sometimes. We may have trouble chewing a tough piece of meat. We may gag on food or have to swallow hard to get it down. And we have all had a drink “go down the wrong way,” making us cough and choke. A person with a swallowing disorder will have trouble like this all the time.”
There are three phases in the act of swallowing. A person can have problems with just one of these phases or all three. The three phases are the oral, pharyngeal, and esophageal phase. It’s nicely illustrated in this video.
Signs of a problem
If you have a swallowing disorder, you probably are aware of its problems, but you may not know that it’s specific to swallowing. Common signs include:
- Coughing during or right after eating or drinking
- “Wet” sounding voice during or after eating or drinking
- Needing extra time or effort to chew or swallow
- Food or liquid leaking from your mouth
- Having a hard time breathing after meals
- Weight loss
Causes and treatments of swallowing disorders
Swallowing disorders can be caused from simple dry mouth to more complex neurological issues. Acid reflux disease is the most common cause of dysphagia, but there are other esophageal disorders that can also cause swallowing problems. Your family physician or gastroenterologist may do tests to determine the cause of your dysphagia.
Treatments will be determined by what type of dysphagia you have. You will work with your doctor to develop the best solution. Techniques include strengthening and retraining your muscles, surgery, or medications.
Have you or someone you know been diagnosed with Colitis? If so, you may be trying to get answers about this inflammatory gastrointestinal condition, what causes it, its symptoms and how it's best treated. Our Wausau, WI, gastroenterologists have you covered. Here’s what you should know about this intestinal disorder:
What is Colitis?
This condition causes inflammation and sometimes ulcers within the colon and rectum. There are several different kinds of colitis such as infectious, ischemic, ulcerative, microscopic and medication-induced.
What are the symptoms of colitis?
The most common symptoms of colitis are chronic diarrhea and a persistent urge to have a bowel movement. It’s common for there to be blood in the stool when you have ulcerative colitis. Along with diarrhea, you may also experience weight loss, abdominal pain, fatigue, and fever.
Some patients even experience spasms of the rectum. If you’ve been noticing persistent or bloody diarrhea or abdominal pain, it’s a good idea to give your GI doctor in Wausau a call to schedule an evaluation.
What causes this intestinal disorder?
Research is still being done to discover the causes of ulcerative colitis; however, it is believed that family history does play a role in who develops this condition and who doesn’t. If a family member has had colitis there is a chance you could have it too. Of course, environmental factors may also be to blame, as higher rates of colitis have been found within urban settings.
How is colitis treated?
The treatment options that are best for you will depend on the cause of your colitis. Once we figure out what’s causing it we can recommend the proper treatment options. For example, if colitis is due to an infection, you may need a round of antibiotics.
If your colitis is due to an autoimmune disease, called ulcerative colitis, you may need any one of several kinds of medications. Common options include anti-inflammatory medications such as corticosteroids, immunomodulators and immunosuppressant’s (to reduce inflammation). We will discuss the best options for you.
GI Associates of Wausau, WI, is here to help you feel better. No matter if you are dealing with unexplained abdominal pain, persistent diarrhea, blood in the stool or other symptoms, it’s important that you have a team of GI specialists who can help. Call us today to schedule an appointment with us.
Is it worth it?
Anyone who suffers from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) knows that predicting and managing symptoms is anything by easy. But is changing your entire diet worth the hassle? We certainly think so!
In the past, we’ve posted a lot about foods to avoid and foods that are IBS-friendly.
And we get it: cutting out beloved favorites like dairy, sugar and fried food may seem like a case of the cure being worse than the disease. But this is not so. There are plenty of reasons to alter your diet for a more IBS-friendly life. Here are just a few of the benefits that come from a low FODMAP (these are types of carbohydrates that many people have trouble digesting) diet:
The reduction in symptoms that people find after switching to an IBS-friendly diet is well worth the modifications.
Increased confidence accompanies reduction of symptoms. After all, not being worried about where the bathrooms are frees up a lot of headspace to focus on better things.
You’ll be in a better mood because, let’s face it, the pain and annoyance of IBS is enough to get even the cheeriest people down.
Perhaps best of all, you may not have to sacrifice everything. While some people with IBS can’t stomach chocolate, others can. Some people can’t do dairy, others, it’s fine. It’s all about finding the right balance for your particular situation.
There are plenty of IBS-friendly recipes out there, it may seem exciting or even overwhelming at first. But no worries, small changes add up. Make your diet modifications a little bit at a time and see positive results fast. Living with IBS can be a challenge, but there are plenty of resources for you to cut out the symptom-causing foods and still live a healthy, satisfied life.
Check out GI Associates' special grocery shopping list, developed specifically for those who have IBS!
Learn more about your options for treating nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
Did you know that nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is actually the most common type of chronic liver disorder in the US? In fact, as many as 80 to 100 million Americans have it. Have you or a loved one just been diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease? If so, our Wausau, WI, gastroenterologists are here to tell you more about this condition and what our team of specialist can do to help.
What is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease?
As you may be able to guess from the name alone, this disorder refers to a condition of the liver that causes too much fat to be stored in the cells of the liver. While many liver disorders are associated with heavy drinking or alcoholism, this condition affects those who do not drink alcohol or who drink very little.
What causes non-alcoholic fatty liver disease?
Unfortunately, medical experts have not been able to pinpoint the exact reason why some people accumulate more fat on their livers than others; however, there are certain conditions and factors that have been linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease such as:
- Obesity or being overweight
- High blood sugar
- High-fat levels within the blood
- Insulin resistance
There are also some conditions and factors that can increase your chances of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease such as:
- High cholesterol
- Metabolic syndrome
- Sleep apnea
- Type 2 diabetes
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
What are the symptoms?
In most cases, people don’t experience symptoms of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Some people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease may notice:
- Abdominal pain in the upper right region
- Weight loss or loss of appetite
How is this condition treated?
While there is no specific treatment for this condition, we may ask you to change your diet and current lifestyle.
If you are overweight or obese, this means helping you to lose that weight safely but effectively through creating a healthier diet and regular exercise plan.
In many cases, losing the excess weight will greatly improve the health of your liver. This may also include reducing or stopping how much alcohol you drink.
Periodic measurement of liver elasticity and liver function blood tests may be recommended to monitor the health of your liver over time.
Whether you have already been diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or you are experiencing symptoms, the team at GI Associates in Wausau, WI, are here to provide you with the support and care you need. You don’t have to handle these issues alone. Call us today.
Procedure now recommended at 45
If you’ve seen the headlines lately, you’re probably aware that the American Cancer Society has updated its guidelines for colon cancer screenings. Whereas the organization previously recommended people at average risk begin screening at age 50, the new recommendation is that they start at age 45.
Why the change?
An increased number of younger individuals have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer in recent years. While we don’t yet know why this is, we do know that, as is the case with all cancers, “the sooner caught, the sooner fought.” Lowering the recommended age will increase the chance of detecting colorectal cancer sooner rather than later.
Am I high risk?
Average risk patients should start getting screened at age 45. This is not the case for high risk patients, who should get screened earlier and per their doctor’s recommendation.
According to the American Cancer Society, patients who are high risk include those with:
- A history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps
- Family members who have had colorectal cancer
- Inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
- A confirmed or suspected hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome (hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer or HNPCC)
- A history of getting radiation to the abdomen or pelvic area to treat a prior cancer
What about insurance?
Your insurance may or may not cover colorectal cancer screenings at age 45. It’s a good idea to contact your plan to review your coverage before scheduling.
Find out more about this potentially serious gastrointestinal infection and its symptoms.
While most people will deal with bouts of gastroenteritis (colloquially referred to as the “stomach bug”), diarrhea, and even food-borne illnesses such as e. coli, there is another infectious strain that doesn’t get as much recognition but does infect close to half a million Americans each year. This infection is known as C. diff, and our Wausau, WI, gastroenterologists are here to tell you more about it.
What is C. diff?
C. diff, or Clostridium difficile, is a bacterial infection of the large intestine that can cause everything from mild diarrhea to more severe diarrhea and abdominal pain with dehydration. Severe cases can be life-threatening.
What are the symptoms?
C. diff can cause a variety of symptoms that mimic that of other conditions. Common symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain and tenderness
If you are dealing with a mild case, you may experience diarrhea and other symptoms for anywhere from five to 10 days. Those with more severe cases may experience symptoms that last well over 10 days.
Since the most classic symptom of C. diff is diarrhea, it’s common for patients to become dehydrated. If you are experiencing diarrhea for more than two days, if there is blood in your stool or if your diarrhea is accompanied by a fever, you should call our Wausau GI doctors right away.
How do you contract C. diff?
Most cases of C.diff infection occur in people who have recently taken an antibiotic for an infection elsewhere in the body. The antibiotic has killed most of the healthy bacteria in the colon. This allows the C.diff to grow and cause the infection in the large intestine. The C.diff can spread from one infectious person to another or through contaminated utensils or clothes. C.diff is more likely to spread in places like hospitals where more patients are on antibiotics and can come in contact with the bacterium.
How is C. diff treated?
Even though there are certain antibiotics that can increase your chances of developing C. diff, if you do develop this infection the best way to treat it is with a round of antibiotics that kill the C.diff bacteria. Metronidazole (Flagyl) and oral Vancomycin are common antibiotics used for treating C. diff.
Sometimes the infection is resistant to treatment. A longer course of these antibiotics or a different antibiotic may be required. A small number of patients may require “Fecal Material Transplantation”. This is a procedure in which healthy bacteria are placed in the colon to combat the C.diff infection.
The team at GI Associates is dedicated to providing comprehensive and gentle digestive treatment and care whenever you need it most. We have locations in Wausau, Stevens Point, Woodruff, Eagle River, Rhinelander, and Antigo, WI. Whether you are dealing with symptoms of C. diff or you are experiencing other issues, don’t hesitate to reach out to us right away to get your GI system back on track.
5 signs it’s time to talk
We all get the occasional bout of heartburn once in a while, but when antacids aren’t enough and it’s happening more and more frequently, it might be time to talk to a doctor. These are some of the signs to watch out for when dealing with persistent heartburn, GERD, or acid reflux.
You’re losing sleep: Nothing is more frustrating than not sleeping well—unless it’s not sleeping well due to acid reflux. If you’ve tried propping yourself up on pillows and these other suggestions, but still aren’t finding relief, it’s time to make an appointment with your doctor.
Chronic cough: It might not be allergies or a lingering cold; your chronic cough may be caused by acid reflux, even if you don’t feel as if you’re experiencing a lot of heartburn. This is something that should be addressed with your doctor.
Nausea and vomiting: If you or a loved one is experiencing nausea and vomiting—and especially if vomiting includes blood or black matter, contact your primary care provider sooner rather than later. Learn more about the connection between nausea, vomiting, GERD, and acid reflex here.
Unexplained weight loss with your heartburn: As welcome as effortless weight loss is, it usually isn’t a sign of good health. If it’s accompanied by heartburn, your best bet is to see a doctor to make sure it isn’t a sign of something worse like esophageal cancer.
Over-the-counter medications aren’t working: If you’ve taken antacids for more than two weeks and it’s not working, this is a warning from your body that something might be wrong. It may be more serious than acid reflux, such as GERD or even Barrett’s esophagus, which you can learn more about here.
Know your options
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Getting screened is essential to the detection and prevention of colon cancer.
Choosing what’s best for you.
Colonoscopy is the most common and effective colorectal cancer screening option because it is the only test that both detects and prevents colorectal cancer.
During a colonoscopy, your doctor examines the lining along the entire length of your large intestine. If your doctor sees abnormal growths of tissue called polyps, tiny instruments are inserted through the colonoscope to remove them. The tissue samples are sent to a pathologist to evaluate whether they are benign, precancerous or malignant. Screening colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years between 50 and 75 years of age. It may be more frequently based on your findings and risk factors.
- Patients with average to high risk of colon cancer
- Preventing colon cancer
Stool DNA test
Another option you can discuss with your doctor is a stool DNA test such as Cologuard.
The stool DNA test looks for abnormal DNA associated with colon cancer or colon polyps and detects hidden blood in the stool, which can indicate the presence of cancer. If a stool DNA test is positive a colonoscopy is usually recommended. The stool DNA test is recommended for average risk patients with no symptoms and is usually recommended every 3-5 years.
- Patients at average risk with no symptoms, conditions, personal or family history of colon cancer
- Patients who cannot tolerate colonoscopy prep or procedure
Not recommended for:
- Patients at higher risk with a personal history of colon polyps or cancer
- Patients with underlying conditions and/or symptoms including:
- inflammatory bowel conditions
- blood in their urine or stool
- bleeding hemorrhoids
- rectal bleeding, or are menstruating.
If a stool DNA test is positive a colonoscopy is usually recommended to identify the source. It is important to note that colonoscopy performed due to a positive stool DNA test is classified as a diagnostic service by most payers, so out of pocket costs may apply.
But wait, there’s more . . .
The most important thing in the fight against colorectal cancer is screening. Early detection is crucial and potentially lifesaving. Fortunately, you have options. We encourage you to speak to your doctor about which screening is best for you.
If you have any concerns about coverage or payment for colon cancer screening services, our GI Associates Financial Counselor will work with you to help understand your benefits.
The choice is yours
When it comes to colon cancer, getting screened is an essential part in your wellness plan. The key is to do something and you have screening options.
It is recommended that colon cancer screening start at age 50 for men and women who are at an average risk with no symptoms.
If colorectal cancer runs in your family or you have certain underlying conditions, you may need to get tested before age 50. Talk to your doctor about what is best for you.
Know your options
Colonoscopy is the most common test to detect colon cancer. Other tests include stool DNA tests, flexible sigmoidoscopy, double barium enema, and CT colonography. Based on your personal health history, your doctor can recommend the right test for you.
1. Colonoscopy: This is the only colorectal cancer screening option that both detects and prevents colorectal cancer. Prior to a procedure you complete a bowel preparation process that cleans out the colon to enable your doctor to see the lining of your rectum and colon. During a colonoscopy, your doctor gently inserts a colonoscope, which contains a tiny video camera at its tip, through the rectum into your large intestine. Your doctor examines the lining along the entire length of your large intestine.
If your doctor sees abnormal growths of tissue called polyps, tiny instruments are inserted through the colonoscope to remove them. The tissue samples are sent to a pathologist to evaluate whether they are benign, precancerous or malignant. Screening colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years between 50 and 75 years of age. It may be more frequently based on your findings and risk factors. If you’d like to learn more about what to expect before a colonoscopy, check out our video.
2. Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT): FIT detects hidden blood in the stool, which can indicate the presence of cancer. When a FIT test is positive a colonoscopy is usually recommended. FIT tests are recommended annually for average risk patients, age of 50 and over, with no symptoms.
3. Stool DNA Tests: The stool DNA test looks for abnormal DNA associated with colon cancer or colon polyps. The test also detects hidden blood in the stool, which can indicate the presence of cancer. If a stool DNA test is positive a colonoscopy is usually recommended. The stool DNA test is recommended for average risk patients with no symptoms and is usually recommended every 3-5 years.
The stool DNA test is not recommended for higher risk patients with a personal history of colon polyps or cancer, or who have inflammatory bowel conditions, diarrhea, blood in their urine or stool, bleeding hemorrhoids, rectal bleeding, or are menstruating. It is important to note that colonoscopy performed due to a positive stool DNA test is often classified as a diagnostic service by most payers.
4. CT Colonography (also referred to as virtual colonoscopy): A small tube is placed in the rectum and air is pumped into the colon to inflate the bowel. A special computer program creates both 2-dimensional x-ray pictures and a 3-dimensional view of the inside of the colon and rectum, which lets the doctor look for polyps or cancer. If the test is positive a colonoscopy is usually recommended to remove the growths. Preparation is the same as a colonoscopy. This test may be recommended when completion of a colonoscopy is not possible. It is usually recommended every 5 years.
5. Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: Similar to colonoscopy, this test uses a thin flexible tube with a camera to examine the rectum and left side of the colon. Whereas colonoscopy examines the entire length of the colon, sigmoidoscopy is a partial exam. The preparation is the same as a colonoscopy. When considering colon cancer screening options, flexible sigmoidoscopy is not as complete as a colonoscopy and therefore is not widely recommended for screening purposes. It’s typically repeated every 5 years.
6. Double Barium Enema: This is also called a lower GI tract radiography, in which a barium solution and air are introduced into the colon and a series of x-rays are taken of the entire colon and rectum. Double Barium Enema is often performed in combination with a flexible sigmoidoscopy. If the either of these test is positive a colonoscopy is usually recommended.
Early detection of colorectal cancer is crucial and potentially lifesaving. The most important step you can take is to get screened. GI Associates is proud to offer options to our patients so that together we can determine the best plan for you.
If you have any concerns about coverage or payment for colon cancer screening services, our GI Associates Financial Counselor will work with you to help understand your benefits.
Schedule your colon cancer screening today. Call 877-442-7736 or request an appointment online.
8 ways to minimize your risk
Colon Cancer Awareness Month is here. At GI Associates, we are passionate about the prevention and treatment of this potentially deadly disease. Below are eight ways you can minimize your risk of colon cancer:
- Don’t Smoke There’s nothing that is helped by smoking. You can reduce your risk for almost every kind of cancer when you quit. Find more reasons and help here.
- Drink in Moderation While some alcohol in moderation, like a glass of red wine with dinner, may have some health benefits. Keep in mind it’s better for your colon—and the rest of you, if you drink only in moderation.
- Cut Back on Red Meat As with alcohol, a moderate amount of red meat (2-3 servings a week) is just fine. However, studies have shown that a high consumption of red meat can increase your risk of colon cancer by 28%. Save the steak for special occasions.
- Eat Vegetables, Fruits, and Whole Grains Naturally, cutting back on red meat and replacing it with, say, chicken strips will not do you nearly as much good as it will to replace unhealthy foods with the holy trinity of cancer-fighting foods: green veggies, antioxidant-rich fruit, and whole grains.
- Healthy Lifestyle: Exercise Exercise is good for you for many reasons, and one of them is that it reduces your risk of colon and other cancers. In fact, exercise helps fight colon cancer even in those who have the disease.
- Healthy Lifestyle: Weight No surprise here. Even otherwise healthy people who are overweight are at a higher risk for colon cancer.
- Get screened. It’s not anyone’s favorite thing, but getting regular colonoscopies is the best way to prevent colon cancer. Learn more about them here.
- Know Your Family History If your primary relatives (mother, father, brother or sister or your children) is diagnosed with colon cancer, you are at higher risk. Ask around at your next family gathering to make sure you know your family history.
One of the very few “good things” colon cancer has going for it is that it’s preventable. We encourage you to make an appointment to learn more about how to stay free of colon cancer your whole life long.
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