Digestive disorders, or gastrointestinal diseases, include a number of conditions that affect the digestive system, including heartburn; constipation; hemorrhoids; irritable bowel syndrome; ulcers; gallstones; celiac disease (a genetic disorder in which consumption of gluten damages the intestines); and inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn’s disease (which causes ulcers to form in the gastrointestinal tract). Digestive disorders are estimated to affect 60–70 million people in the United States.1
While recent data are not readily available on the prevalence of many of these diseases by race and ethnicity or sex, it is estimated that 8.5 million people in the United States are affected by hemorrhoids each year; 2.1 million people are affected by irritable bowel syndrome; and gallstones affect 20.5 million people.ibid
Peptic ulcers are most commonly caused by a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). H. pylori weakens the mucous coating of the stomach and duodenum, allowing acids to irritate the sensitive lining beneath. In 2006, 7.0 percent of adults reported that they had ever been told by a health professional that they have an ulcer. This did not vary by sex, but did vary by age. Among women, those aged 65 years and older were most likely to have reported ever having had an ulcer (9.8 percent), followed by women aged 45–64 years (8.7 percent). Fewer than 4 percent of women aged 18–24 and 25–34 years had ever had an ulcer. Among adults who have ever had an ulcer, 19.5 percent of men and 27.9 percent of women reported that they had an ulcer in the past year (data not shown).
There was little variation among women reporting having ever had an ulcer by race and ethnicity. Non-Hispanic White women were most likely to report having had an ulcer (7.7 percent), followed by non-Hispanic Black women (6.2 percent), and Hispanic women (5.8 percent). Women of other races, including Asian/Pacific Islanders, American Indian/Alaska Natives, and women of multiple races, were least likely to report ever having had an ulcer (3.3 percent; data not shown).
According to the CDC, digestive system symptoms accounted for 33.3 million visits to doctor’s offices and 3.6 million visits to hospital outpatient departments in 2005. In addition, 15.7 million visits to emergency departments were attributed to a digestive system diagnosis that year (data not shown).2
1 National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NNDDIC). Digestive Diseases Statistics [online]. December 2005. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/statistics/statistics.htm, accessed 02/06/08.↑
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. NCHS – FastStats: Digestive Disorders [online] November 20, 2007. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/digestiv.htm, accessed 02/06/08.↑