As you get older, your body naturally begins to slow down. It can be more difficult to keep up with certain good habits, and you might not be as active as you used to be. Many different systems might slow, including your digestive tract. As a result, you deal with digestive issues.
The most common digestive issues among baby boomers tend to be highly treatable. Let’s take a look at some of the top ones, along with information on what causes them. You can also see the CDC’s health screening recommendations for boomers here.
The Most Common Digestive Issues Among Baby Boomers
Constipation can occur due to a variety of age-related factors. It can also be related to certain lifestyle habits. Some of the symptoms of constipation are:
- Infrequent bowel movements
- Painful and difficult bowel movements
- Dry and hard stool
If you have less than three bowel movements each week, you meet the clinical criteria for constipation. If you’ve experienced constipation symptoms for at least three months, the condition is considered chronic.
Constipation is not a disease of its own. Instead, it’s considered a symptom of other digestive issues.
People over the age of 65 are more likely to be constipated because the digestive system naturally slows down as you age. Women and those suffering from mental health issues like depression also have an increased risk.
Certain lifestyle changes can help alleviate symptoms of constipation. If you’re not seeing results from lifestyle changes, you might try a fiber supplement or stool softener.
Laxatives can help with bowel movements. But if you take laxatives too often, it might become harder to pass stool on your own. Because of this, it’s best to get your doctor’s advice before using laxatives.
There are some stimulants that can be used to speed the digestive tract as well. However, these should only be used for severe constipation that has not been helped by other treatments.
2. Peptic Ulcers
Peptic ulcers are sores that occur in the digestive tract. They happen when your digestive acids cause damage to your duodenum or stomach. The duodenum is the part of the intestine that food moves into right after the stomach.
There are several different kinds of peptic ulcer:
- Gastric, which occur in the stomach
- Duodenal, which occur in the small intestine
- Esophageal, which occur in the esophagus
It’s possible to have multiple peptic ulcers at one time. It’s also possible to have ulcers without experiencing symptoms.
The most common potential symptom is pain in the upper abdomen. The pain might meet the following criteria:
- It gets worse when you have an empty stomach.
- It feels better when you have antacids or eat certain types of food.
- It gets worse at night.
- It comes and goes for several days or weeks.
- It occurs anywhere from the belly button to the breastbone.
You might also experience nausea, bloating, and appetite changes.
Some signs of peptic ulcers should be evaluated by a doctor. If you vomit blood, have unexplained loss of weight, or have tar-like and bloody stools, it’s important to talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
People have a higher risk of peptic ulcers if they’re at least 70 years old. The most common non-bacterial cause of ulcers is the use of NSAID medications. If you’ve been using NSAIDs for long periods of time, you have a greater chance of developing an ulcer.
If peptic ulcers are caused by bacteria, they will typically heal when the bacteria is killed by a round of antibiotics.
Ulcers can be treated using antacids, which neutralize your stomach acid. There is also a class of drugs called proton pump inhibitors. These prevent your body from making acid so that your stomach has a chance to heal.
Another class of medications known as H2 blockers can reduce the overall production of acid in the body.
If certain foods make your symptoms worse, it’s best to avoid them. You might notice that your symptoms worsen with caffeine, spicy food, and alcohol. It’s also a good idea to stop smoking, as smoking increases your ulcer risk.
Cutting back on alcohol helps ulcers to heal. So does careful use of pain medication. You might want to stop taking NSAIDs until the ulcer heals, or quit taking them altogether.
Hemorrhoids occur when the veins in the lower rectum or outside of your anus become enlarged. Hemorrhoidal tissue exists in everyone. It doesn’t always become enlarged, but as you get older, there’s a higher chance of experiencing enlargement.
There are a number of causes of hemorrhoids. The most common is struggling with a bowel movement. Because of this, constipation and hemorrhoids often go hand-in-hand.
You might also develop hemorrhoids if you strain your muscles to lift heavy objects. You’ll have a higher risk if you’re overweight.
Hemorrhoids aren’t dangerous, but they can cause pain and irritation.
Internal hemorrhoids develop internally. Though they don’t often hurt, they might cause bleeding from the anus.
External hemorrhoids develop externally around the anus. These tend to be painful and sometimes itchy. They might have a lumpy feeling.
Sometimes blood clots occur in external hemorrhoids. This can lead to serious pain. Clots can dissolve by themselves, but if they don’t, you might need your doctor to remove it.
Hemorrhoids can often be treated at home. It usually takes about a week for symptoms to ease. If you’re still experiencing symptoms after a week, or you’re experiencing rectal bleeding, it’s important to talk to your doctor.
Rectal bleeding can be a sign of a variety of more serious bowel and digestive issues.
4. Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome, more commonly known as IBS, is a condition that occurs when your digestive system is very sensitive.
There is no known cause of IBS. However, flareups of the condition can be related to stress, medication, and certain foods.
IBS doesn’t increase your risk of certain cancers the same way that inflammatory bowel disease does. It also doesn’t permanently harm the digestive tract. But it can cause frustrating and painful symptoms. In some cases, it can interfere with your quality of life.
IBS might involve constipation, diarrhea, or a combination of the two. There are four different types of IBS:
- D, which involves cramps, stomach pain, loose stools, and urgent bathroom breaks
- C, which involves constipation and a struggle to have bowel movements
- Mixed, which combines constipation and diarrhea
- Unspecified, which has irregular symptoms
Women have twice the likelihood of developing IBS as men. Studies indicate that stress may play a part, and people with IBS are more likely to have mood disorders like depression.
IBS is often diagnosed after ruling out other illnesses. If you’re having symptoms of IBS, you should talk to your doctor to make sure that you aren’t suffering from a more severe illness.
GERD stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease. This chronic condition involves frequent acid reflux, which occurs when the stomach contents flow back into the esophagus.
If you have frequent heartburn, that’s another way of saying you have GERD.
Though this condition can interfere with day-to-day life, there are ways to treat it through home remedies, medications, and lifestyle changes.
The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn. Other symptoms might include:
- Pain in your chest and throat
- Bad breath
- Trouble swallowing
- Vomiting and nausea
Eating large portions of food can increase your chances of acid reflux. So can taking certain medications, like antidepressants and asthma medicine. You’re more likely to experience acid reflux if you eat right before bed.
Diverticulitis occurs most commonly in people over the age of 40. The first symptom tends to be stomach pain.
Diverticulitis is a type of colitis, which is an inflammatory bowel disease. Inflammatory bowel diseases are serious and might require surgery if they aren’t diagnosed quickly enough.
The condition occurs when pouches develop in the digestive system. They then become inflamed or infected.
Some of the other symptoms include:
- Changes in bowel movements
- Vomiting and nausea
- Fever and chills
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Rectal bleeding
- Loss of appetite
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should talk to your doctor. Though the cause might be something harmless, it’s important to identify potential diverticulitis early.
Serious complications can occur if you develop an infection. For those without complications, however, many cases can be treated at home by following your doctor’s orders.
Baby boomers often have to deal with digestive issues as they age. Even if you’ve never had digestive issues before, your digestive system slows down when you get older.
Fortunately, most digestive issues are very treatable. You can talk to your doctor about the best ways to manage your health.