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Your Official Gut Health Dictionary

Image of Your Official Gut Health Dictionary
Image of Your Official Gut Health Dictionary

If you’re experiencing gastrointestinal distress for the first time, it can be hard to understand what exactly you’re feeling — especially when your stomach is making you wince in pain or hide out in the bathroom. But in order to get a correct diagnosis for treatment, you need to be able to accurately describe your symptoms.

Unfortunately, “Everything hurts and I’m dying,” probably isn’t the info your doctor is looking for, so it’s important to do your research when it comes to your symptoms and triggers. Even then, you’ll probably come across a lot of terms that need explaining — and that’s where we come in.

To help you understand the jargon associated with the confusing (and sometimes scary) world of gastrointestinal issues, Evens has created a dictionary of gut health terms you should know.

Read on to navigate your next “my stomach hurts” discussion with confidence.

Acid Reflux

The backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus, usually causing a burning sensation in your chest area. It's also known as gastroesophageal reflux (GERD).

Antacids

A class of over-the-counter medications that neutralize stomach acid, providing heartburn relief and easing other acid reflux symptoms. Antacids usually involve a chalky taste.

Antispasmodic

Medication that relieves stomach pain and diarrhea by relaxing the smooth muscle in your gut. The two of the most common antispasmodics are prescription-strength.

Asthma

A respiratory condition that causes inflammation in the airways of your lungs. As if difficulty breathing isn’t bad enough, asthma can trigger and exacerbate symptoms of acid reflux. In addition, acid reflux can also trigger asthma.

Biologics

A newer, expensive treatment for IBD and Crohn’s disease. Biologics are antibodies created in a lab that can stop specific proteins in the body from causing inflammation.

Biomarker

Short for “biological marker,” these are measurable characteristics indicating your body is functioning at status quo (think: temperature checks and blood pressure cuffs). Doctors use biomarkers during colonoscopies and endoscopies to rule out and diagnose certain gastrointestinal disorders.

Bloating

That — ‘ugh’ — feeling of fullness you experience temporarily after eating, usually accompanied by discomfort. Pressure from bloating can push stomach contents back up into your esophagus, causing acid reflux.

Burping

Your body’s way of releasing excess air from the digestive tract through the mouth. Burping excessively soon after eating is a sign of indigestion, and a symptom of acid reflux.

Colonoscopy

A medical procedure designed to detect changes and abnormalities in the large intestine and rectum. The rumors are true: It involves a tube being inserted into your rectum.

Constipation

That feeling when you can’t go. Characterized by hard, dry bowel movements or fewer than three bowel movements per week, constipation can be caused by a poor diet or underlying gastrointestinal disorders.

Cramps

Stomach pain that comes in many forms: mild aches, sharp pains, or a poking sensation. Cramping can be caused by indigestion, constipation, menstrual bleeding, or gastrointestinal distress.

Crohn’s

A chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation throughout your entire digestive tract, potentially leading to persistent diarrhea, stomach pain, cramping, and even rectal bleeding.

Chronic Inflammation

Your body’s condition after a long battle against pathogens, irritants, and toxins, leaving it in a constant state of alert. Over time, chronic inflammation can harm your tissues and organs.

Diarrhea

A digestive problem you’ve likely experienced before, characterized by frequent and watery bowel movements three or more times a day. If your diarrhea lasts longer than two days (or occurs quite frequently), you might have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Dietician

An expert in nutrition who can help you determine foods that trigger your acid reflux and provide appropriate alternatives to better manage your symptoms.

Diverticulitis

When small, bulging pouches (called diverticula) develop in your digestive tract, causing inflammation. Symptoms include constipation, diarrhea, stomach pain, and bloating.

Endoscopy

A medical procedure that allows your doctor to check out your upper digestive system, including your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. Open wide — because an endoscopy requires inserting a camera through your mouth into your esophagus!

Esophagus

A muscular tube connecting the throat, or pharynx, with the stomach. Individuals with acid reflux usually experience inflammation within their esophagus.

Gastroenterology

An area of medicine focused on the digestive system and its disorders. Experiencing GI distress? You may want to connect with a gastroenterologist.

Gastrointestinal distress

An umbrella term for a group of digestive disorders and conditions associated with things that make us feel gross — including constipation, bloating, reflux, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and cramping.

GERD

A long-term, chronic acid reflux condition. People with GERD have acid reflux more than twice a week.

GERD Cough

A common acid reflux symptom caused by acid rising from the esophagus and entering the respiratory tract. The resulting dry cough is usually triggered after a meal.

GI

Acronym for gastrointestinal, a broad term for the stomach and intestines.

Gut Flora

Essentially, the “good” bacteria that live within your digestive tract and keep things running smoothly. Gut flora abnormalities are associated with a host of inflammatory and autoimmune conditions.

Heartburn

That burning sensation you feel behind your breastplate during acid reflux is heartburn, usually after eating.

H2 Blockers

A category of acid reflux medication that slows acid production in your stomach by blocking histamine. H2 blockers are available over-the-counter and with a prescription.

Hoarseness

That raspy, weak voice you experience after stomach acid enters your esophagus, irritating your vocal cords and throat. Hoarseness is another symptom of acid reflux.

IBD

An acronym for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which is a term for two conditions characterized by chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

IBS

An acronym for irritable bowel syndrome—a chronic disorder affecting the large intestine. IBS causes stomach pain coupled with diarrhea, constipation, or both. Think you might have IBS? Check out our guide to telling the difference between IBS and acid reflux.

Ileitis

Inflammation of the ileum (a section of the small intestine) that’s classically caused by Crohn’s disease (CD).

Indigestion

A catch-all term for a variety of upper abdominal discomfort, including overwhelming feelings of fullness or a burning sensation after a meal. Also called dyspepsia, indigestion is often a sign of another condition, like acid reflux.

Inflammation

Your immune system’s response when it comes to protecting itself against harmful irritants — like infections, pathogens, or toxins. Redness, heat, swelling, pain and loss of function are all symptoms of inflammation.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

An umbrella term used to describe a few conditions that cause chronic inflammation of the digestive tract, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. You can learn more about inflammatory bowel disease in our guide to the basics of IBD.

Infusion Therapy

A therapeutic intervention designed to treat inflammatory diseases, like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Infusion therapy uses medication known as biologics to ease inflammation.

Nausea

That feeling you get right before you barf. This common symptom of acid reflux is caused by acid from your stomach regularly entering your esophagus, making you feel queasy.

Nutritionist

Nutritionists advise patients on how food choices impact their health. A licensed nutritionist may help reduce your symptoms of acid reflux by suggesting changes to your diet.

Probiotics

Probiotics are good bacteria (or gut flora) that help maintain a happy digestive system, reducing symptoms of acid reflux like heartburn and regurgitation.

Proton Pump Inhibitors

Medications that ease your acid reflux symptoms by reducing the amount of acid produced by your stomach. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are available over-the-counter and with a prescription.

Regurgitation

A not-so-pleasant mixture of gastric juices (and sometimes undigested food) that rises back up the esophagus and into your mouth. You can also think of it as pre-vomit. In adults, regurgitation is a common symptom of acid reflux.

Shortness of breath

Also called dyspnea, this symptom of acid reflux is caused by stomach acid that creeps into the esophagus and enters the lungs, causing your airways to swell.

Sleep apnea

A sleeping disorder that causes breathing to repeatedly stop and start. Studies show sleep apnea may raise your chances of experiencing acid reflux.

Silent reflux

Acid reflux, but make it laryngopharyngeal. It’s when the same backwards flow of stomach acid into your esophagus also reaches your throat, causing problems in your larynx (or voice box) like hoarseness, a chronic cough, or a lumping sensation.

Steroid

A type of anti-inflammatory medicine, also called corticosteroid tablets, used to treat inflammatory conditions including IBD. Although prescribed to treat inflammation, taking steroids for too long can lead to undesirable side effects like indigestion and heartburn.

Suppository

Solid forms of medication used to treat constipation. You’ll want to relax before taking one of these narrowed capsules, because they’re typically administered into your rectum.

Stool Test

A poop test. Yes, really. This series of tests allow your doctor to examine your stool, checking for potential problems and causes of gastrointestinal issues. Symptoms like chronic diarrhea, bloody stool, or excessive stomach pain may warrant a stool test.

Ulcerative colitis

This chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) causes sores, called ulcers, in the lining of your large intestine. Common symptoms include stomach cramping, and bloody and loose stool.

Ulcers

A peptic ulcer is a sore or hole in the lining of your stomach or intestine. Chronic acid reflux, also called GERD, can cause ulcers and make existing ones worse.

Vomiting

If nausea is the feeling right before you throw up, vomiting is the act of throwing up itself. This symptom of acid reflux is often accompanied by burping, coughing, and a sour mouth taste from stomach acids.


Of course, there’s more where that came from. Unfortunately, there’s no limit to where gut health can go wrong.

But at least the next time something does feel a little crampy or painful (or downright shitty, because — hey! — it happens), you can talk to your doctor with the confidence of knowing you’re speaking the same language.


The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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