What are some GI problems associated with aging?

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Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Some GI problems associated with age include:
  1. Swallowing disorders: Because peristalsis slows down with age, you're more likely to get reflux—making swallowing more difficult. It's important not only to limit your portions but to slow down when you eat, and as Mom said, stop talking with your mouth full. By the way, swallowing problems are often the first sign of dementia, because they can indicate a loss of nerves in your gut.
  2. Diverticulitis: Small pouches in the intestinal wall form when you have too little fiber and water, and your intestines are forced to squeeze too hard (and so are you) when you're going to the bathroom. Feces can then get stuck in these pouches, creating GI discomfort. The answer? More fiber plus more water equals less straining.
  3. H. pylori: These bacterial infections are a leading cause of gastrointestinal injury, and the prevalence increases with acid loss in the stomach as you age. Some say that 80 percent of the elderly are affected by it. The presence of H. pylori can create an inflammatory response, more reflux, or ulcers.
  4. Urinary incontinence: Though technically not part of the GI system, I've included it here because it's awfully close—and often associated with aging. What happens is that as a woman ages and experiences a decline in muscle strength, she actually loses the ability to control her bladder. That's because the muscles around your bladder, typically suspended from the pelvic floor, are supposed to constrict the urethra tube that goes from the bladder to the outside world. But if these muscles become flaccid, meaning you don't have as much control of the kink, then laughing or coughing can build up pressure on the bladder and force out urine. Weakness often happens due to the stretch that pregnancy causes. Doing Kegel exercises can help strengthen those muscles.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.