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 (data not shown).1

Peptic ulcers are most commonly caused by a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). H. pylori weaken the mucous coating of the stomach and duodenum, allowing acids to irritate the sensitive lining beneath. In 2008, 8.6 percent of adults reported that they had ever been told by a health professional that they have an ulcer (data not shown). Among women, non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native women were most likely to report having had an ulcer (16.7 percent), followed by non-Hispanic White (10.3 percent) and Hispanic women (7.4 percent). Asian women were least likely to report ever having had an ulcer (5.7 percent).

In 2007, physicians reported that digestive disorders were the primary diagnosis in 2.9 percent of all visits made by women aged 18 and older, accounting for more than 14 million physician visits. The most common digestive disorder diagnosis was esophageal reflux (21.1 percent of physician’s visits for digestive disorders), followed by abdominal hernia (8.8 percent). Irritable bowel syndrome was the primary diagnosis in 6.6 percent of visits for digestive disorders, while constipation accounted for 5.1 percent of visits.

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 01/12/10.

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