There are many different types of gastrointestinal disorders but functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) are unique. In FGIDs, your gastrointestinal tract malfunctions. FGIDs do not have “outside” causes, such as tumors or chemical imbalances. What may frustrate some patients is that although FGIDs cause very real, and sometimes very painful symptoms, traditional tests and imaging scans cannot diagnose FGIDs.
What are some traditional diagnostic tools that don’t work for FGIDs?
Many routine medical tests, such as X-rays, CT scans, blood tests, and endoscopic exams yield normal results when used to diagnose the cause of FGID symptoms.
It’s frustrating for some patients suffering from FGID to be told that their illness is “in their head,” or that they are “fine” when test results turn up negative.
Although approximately 25 million people in the United States are estimated to suffer from functional gastrointestinal disorders, a majority of them do not seek treatment or medical advice. In addition, many FGID patients miss work or school because of the symptoms they experience. In fact, irritable bowel syndrome – a type of FGID – is the second most often reported cause of missed work or school, following the common cold.
What are some types of FGIDs?
There are over 20 different types of functional gastrointestinal disorders identified to date. The most common include:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – IBS causes abdominal pain, and change in bowel habits including diarrhea and constipation.
- Functional dyspepsia causes pain in your upper abdominal area. This includes problems with feeling bloated and nauseated.
- Functional vomiting in which chronic nausea and/or vomiting is unexplained.
There are three basic classifications of FGIDs based on function:
- Motility. Motility describes the normal muscle activity of your GI tract. This hollow tube normally performs regular contractions that progress from it’s top to the bottom. Erratic or spasmodic contractions indicate a motility problem and can cause bowel irregularity.
- This grouping involves the nervous system response to digestive activity. For example, overly sensitive nerves can cause pain and disrupt the normal digestive process.
- Brain-gut dysfunction involves a malfunction in the communication system between the brain and the gut. This can cause a host of problems including poor and incomplete digestion.
How is a diagnosis made?
Your doctor or specialist cannot rely on standardized tests such as X-rays or blood tests, which will come back as normal. Diagnosis must be made on a careful study of your signs and symptoms. A criteria set called the “Rome Criteria” was developed for the adequate diagnosis of FGIDs. It details the set of symptoms and signs that indicate a diagnosis for each specific illness.
Treatment for FGIDs are patient-specific – every person experiences FGIDs differently and every person reacts differently to treatment options. Anti-spasmodics that reduce contractions in the gastrointestinal tract can help relieve spasms. Anti-diarrheal medications can help, too. It’s important to see an expert in gastrointestinal health, and someone experienced in the nuances of FGIDs.
For more information on digestive health, or to schedule a consultation with Dr. Becker’s team, contact Austin Gastroenterology for an appointment at the location nearest you.