The Digestive System

The digestive system consists of several different organs that are responsible for the break-down of food, which then gets converted into nutrients that our bodies require for cell repair, growth and energy. These organs include the liver, the pancreas, the gallbladder, and the gastrointestinal tract.

Below, Dr. Ali Ghahary, a Vancouver-based family doctor, talks about some of the common disorders that correlate with the digestive system.

Ali Ghahary - The Digestive SystemThe liver, for example, which is located on the right side of the stomach, is responsible for the body’s metabolic process, including the break-down of old and/or damaged blood cells, the production of proteins for blood clotting, the detoxification of chemicals, and other important functions. There are certain health conditions that are commonly associated with the liver, including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver failure.

The pancreas, which is responsible for secreting enzymes, breaking down food and producing insulin, also has certain disorders associated with it that should not be ignored – though some may be difficult to diagnose. Pancreatic cancer, for example, is often silent and without symptoms until it is in a much later stage. There is also a condition that is known as acute pancreatitis, which can come on suddenly and cause the pancreas to become inflamed. Symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and bloating, and can last for several days.

Gallstones are a common and painful condition associated with the gallbladder, which can occur if your gallbladder does not empty properly. While many people with gallstones will not notice any symptoms, others can. Symptoms that can occur when gallstones are present include sudden pain in the epigastric area (the upper belly), pain after eating meals, and pain when taking deep breaths. In order to treat gallstones or if you are having gallbladder problems, surgery may be a necessary treatment method, though it is not uncommon for physicians to take a watch-and-wait approach.

Lastly, the gastrointestinal tract. The most common disorder associated with the GI tract is GERD (gastrointestinal reflux disease), also commonly referred to as acid reflux. Gastrointestinal reflux disease occurs when the stomach’s acid content regurgitates or refluxes to the esophagus, which can lead to heartburn. More information on GERD can be found on Dr. Ali Ghahary’s blog.

Click here for even more information from Dr. Ali Ghahary on disorders of the digestive system.

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Common Health Concerns For Seniors

Before joining Brentwood Medical Clinic in 2011, Dr. Ali Ghahary worked with a large percentage of geriatric patients, including at the Louis Brier Home & Hospital in Vancouver – a long-term care facility funded by the Vancouver Coastal Health authority.

In 1914, Dr. Ignatz L. Nascher wrote the first book on geriatrics. The term “geriatrics” is derived from the Greek work “geras,” meaning old age, and “iatrikos,” meaning physician, and is the field of medicine that specializes in the healthcare of elderly patients.

In 2014, over 6 million Canadians consisted of geriatric patients aged 65 and up. That number is expected to rise by as much as 7 percent in the year 2030. According to the World Health Organization, the average life expectancy in Canada is 82.2 years of age. As seniors are now living healthier and longer lives, this is an umber that is also expected to rise over time. However, elderly patients often require more healthcare resources including assisted living and extended care facilities.

As soon as we are born the aging process begins, though it progresses at different rates in each individual. Certain factors such as genetics, nutrition, lifestyle changes, and occupational hazards as well as physical and social environments all play a part in how we age. It is important for elderly individuals to see their physician for regular check-ups to ensure optimal health. Below are some examples of common physical changes and diseases that elderly patients may experience:

Integumentary
• Bruising
• Signs of infection
• Hair thinning/loss of hair colour
• Dry skin/skin that loses its elasticity
• Development of wrinkes
• Age spots
• Increased sensitivity to cold
• Skin cancer

Nervous
• Problems with balance
• Difficulty with body temperature regulation
Sleep problems

Sensory
• Eyesight changes/cataracts
• Smell and taste receptors less sensitive
• Hearing diminishes

Musculoskeletal
• Less muscle strength and flexibility
• Slow movements
• Osteoporosis
Arthritis

Respiratory
• A decrease in breathing capacity
• Lung infections

Urinary
• Incontinence (lack of bladder control)
• Difficulty emptying bladder completely
• Decrease in kidney size

Digestive
• Increased constipation
• Increased flatulence
• Slower digestion of food
• Other digestive problems such as GERD

Cardiovascular
• Narrowing of blood vessels
Heart problems

Endocrine
• Decrease in estrogen and progesterone
• Increased risk of diabetes
• Hot flashes
Weight gain

Reproductive
• Cease of menstruation/ovulation (females)
• Enlarged prostate gland (males)

Common Disorders Associated With the Digestive System

The digestive system is a collection of organs that work together in getting food in and out of your body. These organs include the mouth, salivary glands, esophagus, stomach, gallbladder, pancreas, small intestine, liver, colon, rectum and anus. Symptoms associated with the digestive system include the occasional nausea, upset stomach and heartburn, to more severe, life-threatening disorders. Such disorders usually have unknown causes and are complex with subtle symptoms. While some may be generic, they may also develop due to a number of different factors including fatigue, stress, diet, smoking and alcohol abuse. Diagnostic testing, including laboratory tests, medical imaging and endoscopic procedures may be necessary to diagnose certain disorders.

Digestive System
Digestive System

Below, Vancouver physician Dr. Ali Ghahary gives further insight into some of the common disorders that are associated with the digestive system.

Appendicitis
As written about in a previous article by Dr. Ali Ghahary, appendicitis occurs when the appendix becomes inflamed, resulting in abdominal pain and other symptoms, and can be a life-threatening condition if not treated immediately.

For more information on appendicitis, visit http://alighahary.blogspot.ca.

Cirrhosis
Cirrhosis is a chronic disease and potentially life-threatening condition that occurs as a result of scarring, also known as fibrosis, to the liver. The scarring replaces otherwise healthy tissues which then prevents the liver from being able to function normally. Cirrhosis has many possible causes; however, the most common causes include excessive consumption of alcohol and viral hepatitis (mainly hepatitis B and hepatitis C.) Symptoms include edema, fatigue, jaundice, bruising, weight and muscle loss, and frequent infections. Oftentimes, symptoms of cirrhosis will not present until the disease has progressed.

Colitis
Colitis is inflammation of the large intestine that can be caused by chronic infections, impaired blood flow or other inflammatory disorders such as Crohn’s disease. Symptoms of colitis include abdominal pain and/or bloating, bloody stools, dehydration and diarrhea. It can be identified by a colonoscopy.

Colorectal Cancer
This is cancer of the colon, otherwise known as the large intestine which is located in the lower part of the digestive system. In most cases, colorectal cancer begins with small, benign polyps that turn cancerous over time. Because these polyps are usually small, they initially produce very little, if any, symptoms. However, you may notice a change in your bowel habits, have blood stools, persistent cramps and abdominal pain. It is important to go for regular screening as this can dramatically reduce your risk of colorectal cancer, and early detection is also important.

Other common disorders of the digestive system not mentioned here include diverticulitis, hernia, GERD, peptic ulcer disease, and irritable bowel syndrome.

For more information on any of these conditions, follow Dr. Ali Ghahary on social media.

Understanding Inflammation

When Canadians think of inflammation, we often think of it as damage to the body that causes pain and swelling, and even infection. While this is true to a certain extent, inflammation is actually the body’s natural response to something it perceives to be harmful. So while infection is oftentimes easily associated with inflammation, inflammation does not necessarily mean an infection is present. Inflammation occurs by releasing chemicals from the white blood cells, which assists in protecting the body from and removing any damaged pathogens, cells or other irritants. A bacterium, fungus or virus causes infection, and inflammation is simply the body’s response to it. When inflammation is present, this means that the body is trying to heal itself. If inflammation did not occur, our bodies would never properly heal.

There are two types of inflammation that can occur. Acute and Chronic. Acute means the rapid onset of inflammation, which can become severe but has a short healing period. Acute inflammation can be the result of having a sore or scratch throat caused by the common cold or flu, bronchitis, skin wounds, dermatitis, appendicitis or sinusitis. Unlike acute inflammation, chronic inflammation is long-term and can last from months to years. Chronic inflammation can be caused by the failure to eliminate acute inflammation as well as other persisting irritants. It can result in several diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, hay fever, and even certain cancers. Chronic sinusitis, asthma, and digestive orders such as Crohn’s disease are also linked to chronic inflammation. Signs and symptoms of inflammation can include pain to the affected areas (especially upon touch), redness, swelling, and the feeling of warmth.

Autoimmune diseases can also result in inflammation. An autoimmune disease is when the body’s immune system issues a response to otherwise healthy tissues and mistakes them for pathogens or irritants that are harmful. Examples of autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, lupus, psoriasis, and fibromyalgia.

In certain cases, Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family physician in Vancouver, Canada, will prescribe medication to alleviate the symptoms associated with inflammation. These medications include anti-inflammatories known as NSAIDs – such as Aspirin or Ibuprofen, and are used to treat inflammation and pain. For more information on chronic pain management, visit alighahary.blogspot.ca. Corticosteroids such as Prednisone are also commonly used to treat inflammation. As these drugs can result in serious side effects and other health conditions, it is not recommended that they are taken long-term unless otherwise noted by your physician.