U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration

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Digestive Disorders

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.1

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 2007, 7.1 percent of adults reported that they had ever been told by a health professional that they have an ulcer (data not shown). Among women, the likelihood of having ever had an ulcer increased with age. Women aged 65 years and older were most likely to have reported ever having had an ulcer (11.1 percent), followed by women aged 45–64 years (8.6 percent). In comparison, fewer than 4 percent of women aged 18–24 years had ever had an ulcer.

There was also some 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 (8.3 percent), followed by non-Hispanic Black (5.6 percent) and Hispanic women (5.3 percent). Asian women were least likely to report ever having had an ulcer (3.5 percent; data not shown).

Women with family incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line were also more likely than women with incomes above that threshold to have ever had an ulcer (9.8 versus 6.8 percent, respectively; data not shown).

In 2006, digestive system symptoms accounted for 35.9 million visits to doctor’s offices and 3.2 million visits to hospital outpatient departments, while an additional 7.2 million visits to emergency departments were attributed to a digestive system diagnosis.2

Bar graph: Women Who Have Ever Had an Ulcer [D]

1 National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NNDDIC). Digestive Diseases Statistics [online]. NIH Publication No. 06–3873. December 2005. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/statistics/statistics.htm, accessed 12/31/08.
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. NCHS – FastStats: Digestive Disorders [online] August 6, 2008. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/digestiv.htm, accessed 12/31/08.

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