Digestive diseases and disorders are very common in the United States today, responsible for over 22 million visits to the doctor's office annually. One reason for this alarming number is that there are so many different conditions that affect the digestive system. Combing through all of these conditions can raise more questions, starting with "What do all of these acronyms stand for?"
Educating yourself on these common acronyms can make you feel more confident if your doctor brings them up, and can demystify the opaque and complex world of digestive health.
Common Acronyms for Digestive Disorders
SIBO stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. The name is entirely accurate as this disorder occurs when there is an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. This overgrowth typically occurs when there is a lack of movement in the small intestine. Food sits in the small intestine a little too long, causing bacteria to multiply and cause discomfort.
FODMAPs is a term most often heard in relation to a "FODMAPs diet." This acronym stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These are short-term carbohydrates that the small intestine can have trouble absorbing which can cause digestive discomfort. The FODMAPs elimination diet is often used to manage other conditions like IBS and SIBO. By eliminating and then slowly reintroducing high FODMAP foods to the diet, patients can learn which foods trigger their symptoms and use that knowledge to manage their condition.
Arguably the most well-known of digestive disorders, Irritable Bowel Syndrome affects the large intestine. This is a chronic condition that impacts people very differently, from frequent trips to the bathroom to crippling pain. It's a very broad condition for which we don't know the exact cause. There is some evidence that IBS is caused by some combination of the following: muscle contractions in the intestine, inflammation, infection, and intestinal bacteria. IBS can go dormant from time to time and then flare up unexpectedly with food, stress, and hormones all acting as possible triggers. Women are more likely than men to experience IBS and the condition is not associated with colorectal cancers or tissue changes in the bowels.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a category of disease that includes Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn's Disease. Both of these diseases result in chronic inflammation of the digestive tract, large intestine, and/or rectum. IBD is not fatal in and of itself, but it can cause life-threatening complications, including colon cancer, blood clots, bowel obstruction, and malnutrition, making it a much more severe condition than IBS. Current thinking is that IBD is a malfunction of the immune system where the immune system attacks healthy cells in the digestive tract.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease is an acid reflux disorder that occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus. The stomach acid irritates the esophagus and may feel like heartburn or even cause chest pain, but it is a temporary condition that can usually be managed with lifestyle and diet changes or over-the-counter antacids, though some people do require prescription medication or surgery to obtain relief.
Short Chain Fatty Acids are acids produced by your body and that are vital to colon health. Intestinal bacteria ferment fiber in the colon to produce SCFAs, which colon cells then use as a source of energy. SCFAs are produced from fiber-rich fruits and vegetables and can help protect the body against digestive disorders, particularly inflammatory digestive disorders and even colon cancer. They also help regulate blood sugar levels and manage type 2 Diabetes.
You will see the use of CFUs or Colony Forming Units most frequently on probiotic packaging. A CFU is a measurement of the good bacteria or yeast inside a probiotic capsule, tablet, or serving size. CFUs are live bacteria and yeasts that are capable of reproducing to increase the amount of that bacteria/yeast in the gut. Probiotics are often used to manage digestive conditions, particularly those that are influenced by gut bacteria.
If moderate to severe digestive problems have become a way of life, then it’s time to make a change.