Gastrointestinal Diseases

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Gastrointestinal diseases are some of the most commonly experienced illnesses all over the world and the UAE is no exception. From simple aches and pains to more complicated issues like stomach ulcers, all problems related to the digestive system are classified as gastrointestinal diseases. The good thing is that most of the GI issues are easily treatable but some may require special medical attention. Let’s cover everything you need to know about gastrointestinal diseases, their types, symptoms, causes, treatment and insurance options available to sufferer. 

Types of Gastrointestinal Diseases

  • Diverticulitis: The inflammation of the diverticula is the condition we refer to as diverticulitis. Diverticula are small pocket or sack-like formations in the lower part of the colon lining. These small pockets often get swollen due to infection. The occurrence of diverticulitis can lead to further complications as well. It can also turn severe or advanced making the situation a bit more complicated. 
  • Anal Fistula: This is a structural gastrointestinal disease that explains the development of an infectious, tunnel-like structure between the skin and the digestive tract, towards the end. This condition often begins from an infection of the anal gland and often heals itself over time. The formation of the tunnels leads to abscess which either moves out of the body on its own or is removed by surgery. Surgery is often the way to treat this condition. 
  • Lactose Intolerance: Lactose intolerance is often a result of the person’s inability to digest a compound known as lactose. This is mostly found in milk and processed dairy products. Lack of intestinal enzyme called lactase is the main reason for this condition to occur. Lactase is responsible for digesting lactose. Lactose intolerance is not a serious condition and can be controlled simply by eliminating processed dairy foods. Some people move to products like soy milk or almond milk to control lactose intolerance. Being lactose intolerant can lead to gas, loss of bowels and stomach ache. The further conditions that develop due to lactose intolerance may require medical attention if they become serious. 
  • Constipation: A functional gastrointestinal disease, constipation is a condition where you find it hard to relieve your bowels. Doctors define constipation as when you have relieved your bowels 2 times or lesser in a week. The absence of or lack of dietary fibres in your daily food intake is the main reason for constipation. However, hormonal fluctuations may also often cause constipation. The most obvious symptom of constipation is straining when relieving bowels. Small and hard stool, anal fissures and even haemorrhoids may occur if constipation stays for long or if too much pressure is applied while passing bowels. However, this is a very rare situation. Constipation can often be easily treated with a few over the counter medicines. 
  • Chronic Diarrhoea: Chronic diarrhoea aka loose bowels is a gastrointestinal condition that means having diarrhoea for more than 4 weeks. Here, watery loose stools are passed by the patient. High sugar intake, depression, stress, excessive weight and older age are some of the causes and risk factors of chronic diarrhoea. It may also be a symptom of a more serious underlying problem such as celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome. Food allergies and intolerances may also lead to chronic diarrhoea such as lactose intolerance. Treatment for chronic diarrhoea is often decided as per the underlying condition that is causing it. The identification of the root cause of chronic diarrhoea is of utmost importance before prescribing medicines. 
  • Ulcerative Colitis: One of the two most common bowel diseases ever, ulcerative colitis is a condition where the gastrointestinal tract becomes inflamed. Many different big and small conditions can lead to this inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Small ulcers begin to develop in the tract starting from the rectum and heading to the large intestine. The treatment for ulcerative colitis may include several different things including medication as well as procedures like colonoscopy. The treatment plan is made as per the severity of the condition and preference of the patient as well. Prescription medicines are a part of the plan more often than not since they help in reducing and relieving inflammation. 
  • Haemorrhoids: Another structural gastrointestinal disease, haemorrhoids happen when the blood vessels in the anal lining swell and become inflamed. Haemorrhoids can happen when too much strain is put to pass stool, possibly when constipated or having diarrhoea. Pregnancy is also a leading cause of haemorrhoids. Haemorrhoids can be of two types: internal and external. The internal ones occur in the blood vessel inside the anus opening while the outer ones are just outside the anus. Blood clots may form under the skin often when outer haemorrhoids are concerned. 
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): The muscles in your colon become sensitive and begin to move a lot more or a lot less. This condition is known as irritable bowel syndrome. Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS can be caused due to allergic reactions from foods, medicines and even stress. It is easily treatable though. Simply avoiding a few things and monitoring the diet can get you back on track. If the condition is severe, doctors may prescribe medicines for added relief. 
  • Anal Fissures: This condition is described as cracks formed in the skin of the anal opening. The reasons for these cracks or fissures can be the passing of hard stool or loose stool. The fissure leads to the exposure of muscles beneath the anal lining to air and the stool which causes irritation and pain. Anal fissures can be very painful and hence needs to be treated right away. Treatment in the initial stages includes changes in diet and oral medication to relieve the pain and repair the cracks. If need be, surgery may also be suggested to repair the exposed muscles and close the cracks. 
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): Widely known as acid reflux, this condition occurs when the acid in stomach travels back to the oesophagus, the pipe that connects the mouth to the stomach, commonly known as food pipe. The backwash of acid leads to irritation in the food pipe and causes a lot of discomfort for the patient. Medication is the usual track of treatment for acid reflux.  
  • Crohn’s Disease: This is a type of bowel disease like IBS. Crohn’s disease inflames the digestive tract which results in irritation, discomfort, pain, fatigue, Diarrhoea, weight loss, malnutrition and more. The inflammation caused by this condition is not limited to just one area in the digestive system. It can occur in different parts for every affected person. 
  • Peptic Ulcer Disease: A very thick layer of mucus covers and protects the inner lining of the stomach from the juices that digest the food. Often this lining thins out due to several causes and the acid forms ulcers on the lining. Drinking a lot of alcohol, having a family history of peptic ulcers, liver or kidney diseases, smoking, etc. Pain-relieving medicines can also lead to thinning of stomach mucus as well as ageing. 
  • Liver Diseases: Since the liver is a big part of the digestive system, all digestive liver diseases are categorised as gastrointestinal diseases. Many chronic liver diseases are digestive diseases and can hamper the digestion process overall. Several dietary restrictions may apply when you are suffering from liver diseases. 
  • Gallstones: Gall's bladder is another important of the digestive system. It stores and produces bile juice which helps break down and digest fat. Gall stones can form in the gall bladder or the bile ducts as well. These are small masses that can be as big as a grain or a golf ball. The main cause for gall stones to form is high levels of cholesterol or bilirubin in the gall bladder. Endoscopy and ultrasound scans are generally used to identify and treat gall stones. 
  • Acute and Chronic Pancreatitis: In acute or chronic pancreatitis is a condition where the pancreas gets inflamed. Acute pancreatitis is a leading cause of death. It is one of the most common pancreatic diseases. These episodes of pancreatitis can last for a few days in case of acute pancreatitis and may stay for long in case of chronic pancreatitis. Severe cases of pancreatitis are even life-threatening in most cases and hence need immediate medical attention. Things like alcohol abuse, smoking, obesity and injuries to the abdomen can cause pancreatitis. Genetic disorders, gall stones and hypertriglyceridemia may also cause pancreatitis but quite rarely. 
  • Celiac Disease: A very rare gastrointestinal disease but common autoimmune condition, Celiac disease works on multiple factors. Celiac disease is related to gluten allergies. Gluten is a protein found in many grains such as rye, barley, etc. When a person with this condition consumes these grains or gluten in any form, an autoimmune reaction happens. This trigger reaction begins to destroy the small hair-like structure in the small intestine. This hair-like structure, called villi, are tasked with consuming nutrients from the food. The destruction of villi leads to malnutrition in the body. Celiac disease can cause further problems as well. For example, infertility, damages to the small intestine, and intestinal lymphoma. 

Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Diseases

  • Abdominal discomfort which includes pain, cramps or bloating
  • Unexplained and sudden weight loss
  • Nausea and sudden vomits 
  • Heartburn aka acid reflux 
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation 
  • Faecal incontinence
  • Tiredness
  • Lost Appetite
  • Blood in stool
  • Troubles in swallowing solid foods, often liquids as well

Causes of Gastrointestinal Diseases

  • Low Fibre in Diet: While fibres are a type of carbohydrate that cannot be digested, they are essential to maintain good digestive health. Not only do they help you feel full but also is an important part of your gut health. Fibres are very well received by the bacteria that live inside our small intestine to aid several digestive processes. In short, dietary fibres are essential for good digestion as well as a smooth bowel movement. The Daily recommended intake of fibres for people younger than 50 years of age is 25 grams (women) and 38 grams (men). Older people require a little less fibre, around 21 grams and 30 grams for women and men, respectively. Raw vegetables and fruits are very high in fibre as well as whole grains like oats, wheat and barley. 
  • Stress: the relation between our gut and the brain has been long-established. It has been found that there are more neurons in our gut than in our spinal cord. This means that the brain and the digestive system are always interconnected through signals and more. This is why we often experience loss of appetite when struggling through emotions. This is precisely why being stressed can impact your gut health and give rise to several digestive conditions like bloating, cramping, inflammation, etc. 
  • Low Water Intake: Water assists in several digestive functions such as breaking down the stool and aiding in the digestion process. This is why not drinking water can lead to several digestive complications including constipation and indigestion. These conditions then further lead to more complex and serious gastrointestinal problems. Water also washes out toxins from the body. It is advised to drink about 4-5 litres of water in a day. Drinking unsweetened coffee and other similar drinks can also be used to complete your water intake. Make sure that you balance your caffeine intake though. 
  • Too Much Dairy Intake: A gastrointestinal condition, lactose intolerance, is all about dairy product consumption. Dairy has only recently become a part of the human diet and most people experience some kind of discomfort or other when eating dairy. Some people experience severe symptoms while others are milder. Excessive consumption of dairy products may lead to conditions like gas, lactose intolerance, constipation, cramps and more. 
  • Low Physical Activity: Digestive health is quite dependent on getting physical exercise. People who happen to exercise less end up experiencing severe digestive problems and for a prolonged time too. Not getting enough exercise is also related to several other health conditions including liver diseases and cardiovascular diseases. This is why it is highly recommended by doctors to indulge in physical activities to maintain good digestion and overall well-being. 
  • Genetics: Autoimmune gastrointestinal disorders like Celiac disease are caused by genetics mostly. This is not a risk factor or cause that can be controlled but it pays off to be aware of it and get the conditions diagnosed quickly. The good thing about gastrointestinal diseases caused due to genetics is that they require a secondary factor to play into the actual surface. For example, Celiac disease does not come forwards if the person in concern keeps a low or no-gluten diet. The same goes for hereditary pancreatitis and inherited lactose intolerance. The best way to steer clear here is early detection and prevention from the very start. 
  • Age: Just like genetic, age is another factor that no one can have a lot of control over. Our bodily functions begin to slow down along with the immune system making the body more sensitive and open to infections. The same goes for the gut as well. As digestive powers of the body become to fade, special attention should be paid to the diet as well as physical exercises to avoid any potential problems. As the stomach becomes more sensitive to certain hard to digest foods, it also becomes sensitive to medicines. This is why it is best to play safe and eat easy to digest, healthy foods in old age.
  • Overuse of Certain Medicines: Using medicines like painkillers too much can lead to irritation, discomfort, inflammation and even ulcers in some cases. It is best to lessen your use of such medicines and ensure that your gut health is not compromised in the process. Gastrointestinal conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and stomach ulcers find the overuse of certain medications to be a leading cause. 
  • Intolerance to Some Foods: Human body may develop intolerance to certain foods as well as certain compounds found in foods we consume commonly. The most common food intolerances and allergies include lactose and gluten. Taking an allergy test and finding out foods you are allergic to is a good step to maintain gut health and avoid gastrointestinal conditions. Avoiding foods and compounds you are allergic to is important to make sure any serious gastrointestinal conditions stay at bay. 
  • Smoking: While smoking does not affect gut health directly or in a major way, it still counts as a risk factor for gastrointestinal conditions like peptic ulcers and pancreatitis. Smoking should be avoided at all costs anyway since it can cause several small and big health problems in the human body. However, it becomes necessary to keep it at bay if you are already experiencing gastrointestinal conditions like upset stomach or irritable bowel syndrome. 
  • Excessive Alcohol Intake: Just like smoking alcohol abuse can also lead to several serious gastrointestinal conditions like peptic ulcers and pancreatitis. Liver diseases are caused by alcohol consumption too. It is essential to lower your alcohol intake and follow a doctor’s advice. 

Diagnosis Procedures for Gastrointestinal Diseases

  • Faecal Occult Blood Test: This test to done to detect the presence of blood in the stool. A small stool is placed on a specialised card which is then sent to the laboratory for testing. This is test is done to find out the occult or hidden blood in the stool which is not easily detectible. The presence of blood in the stool may further lead to more tests to figure out the source of the bleeding. 
  • Stool Culture: The presence of any abnormal bacteria in the gut is determined by stool culture. This test is widely used in cases of diarrhoea, hepatitis infection and more similar conditions.  
  • Colorectal Transit Study: This test is done to track the movement of food through the colon and figure out any abnormalities. The patient is given a marker pill to swallow. The pill and its position are tracked using x-ray tests which are conducted at least 3-7 times during the entire day. The tests begin one day after taking the pill. A high-fibre diet is followed during the test. 
  • Barium Beefsteak Meal: yet another way to track the digestive health of a patient. A meal containing barium is given to the patient. The doctor then tracks the movement of the meal through the barium. 
  • CT or CAT Scans: X-rays are used to create images of organs on a computer in CT scans. These scans are way more detailed than x-rays reports and hence preferred over them.
  • Defecography: This is an x-ray test of the anorectal area to determine the way anal muscles are functioning overall. A paste with stool-like consistency is inserted in the patient’s rectum which is then defecated in a toilet inside an x-ray machine. The movement, contraction and relaxation of rectal muscles are noted here. 
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging: Pictures of organs are created using radio frequencies and magnetic waves on a computer in an MRI exam. 
  • Radioisotope Gastric-Emptying Scan: a slightly radioactive substance known as radioisotope is swallowed by the patient to track its movement inside the stomach. 
  • Ultrasound: High-frequency soundwaves are used to create images of organs and blood vessels inside the body.
  • Colonoscopy: A small flexible tube is inserted into the colon to check the health of the large colon of the body. There is usually a camera at the tip of the tube which shows the insides of the large colon. 
  • Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography: A flexible tube with light known as an endoscope is inserted into the patient’s mouth and sent to the abdominal cavity. It helps the doctors examine the organs first-hand on a computer in real-time. 

Treatment Plans for Gastrointestinal Diseases

  • Surgery: Surgery is not a commonly sought out treatment option for most gastrointestinal conditions since many of them can be treated using less invasive and easier methods. Surgery is only considered as a last resort when other forms of treatments like medicines do not seem to do the trick. Gastrointestinal diseases like anal fissures and gall stones might need surgery to be treated if the medicines do not seem to do the trick. Most commonly gastrointestinal diseases treated via surgery include IBS, peptic ulcers, acid reflux, gastrointestinal tumour, and diseases related to the bile duct. Popular surgical options for gastrointestinal diseases include laparoscopy, colonoscopy, abdominal surgery, etc.  
  • Medicines and Drugs: Medicinal treatments are one of the most commonly used treatment methods for gastrointestinal diseases. The medicines and drugs used to treat a certain gastrointestinal condition will differ as per the symptoms flaring up and the severity of the disease. Anti-inflammation drugs, anti-allergic, anti-biotics and anti-acid tablets are some of the most common ones to be used for gastrointestinal conditions. Several brands manufacture drugs under these sub-categories which are prescribed by the doctors. 
  • Dietary Changes: Another well-known way to treat gastrointestinal conditions is by incorporating dietary changes into the routine of the patient. Most mild gastrointestinal conditions can be treated simply by changing or modifying the diet a little bit. This includes constipation, IBS, diarrhoea, acid reflux, lactose intolerance, Celiac disease, and more. The changes are generally suggested by the doctor after they have examined your conditions and established the proper way to proceed.  
  • Psychological Treatments: When gastrointestinal conditions are caused by psychological conditions like stress and depression, the need for psychological treatment may arise. Therapy must be suggested along with some exercises you can practise on your own. It is a rare occurrence for psychological treatments to come into the picture for gastrointestinal conditions though. 

Gastrointestinal Diseases and Insurance 

Almost all health insurance plans offer some level of coverage for gastrointestinal diseases. The actual number of diseases included in the coverage will depend on every provider concerned though. Since gastrointestinal diseases are not critical illnesses, basic health insurance plans generally cover them. You can look forward to getting benefits like hospitalisation, pre and post hospitalisation, pharmaceuticals, diagnostic tests and more. Daycare procedures may also be covered. Several providers in the UAE like Daman, Allianz, Oman Insurance and Metlife cover gastrointestinal diseases. 

In a Nutshell

Treatment for gastrointestinal diseases is generally simple and mostly includes dietary restrictions and medicines. One can easily get help from a primary care physician to deal with their gastrointestinal conditions. However, make sure that you stay about all the serious conditions that can turn severe if attention is not paid. Adopt a clean diet and get exercise to maintain a good digestive system. And lastly, have a good insurance plan ready as fall back option in times to need.

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