It was four years ago that Aventura attorney Ivy Ginsberg had her first attack of acid reflux, and the memory of the painful experience is still fresh.
She had just finished a big dinner of steak, fries and garlicky chimichurri sauce and was getting ready to attend a live performance of The Whiz when she began to feel her food rising.
Instead of attending the theater that night, Ginsberg, 51, wound up in the bathroom vomiting all night.
At first, Ginsberg attributed the experience to “some bad indigestion,’’ brought on by the heavy, spicy dinner. But she was alarmed at how painful her throat and esophagus became.
The next day, Ginsberg made an appointment with a gastroenterologist. “I had to know what it was,’’ she said.
The diagnosis: acid reflux.
Ginsberg now takes medication, Aciphex, daily and has adjusted her diet, cutting back on dairy and eliminating fats and oils. She has never suffered another bad attack of reflux, although she has developed secondary, related issues, including a constant cough attributable to irritation in the esophagus and digestive track.
“When I follow the guidelines I usually feel good,’’ she said.
Ginsberg is not alone. As people hit middle age and beyond, they find their digestive tract is no longer an invisible, perfect machine guiding food from mouth to elimination. Age-related digestive issues include acid reflux, constipation, bloating, gallbladder attacks and gallstones, as well as more serious issues such as colon cancer.
Doctors say there are a number of reasons people begin experiencing digestive issues as they age. For one thing, they may develop other conditions that cause digestive side effects.
Diabetes, for example, can lead to diarrhea or constipation as well as stomach infections such as candida. Congestive heart failure can lead to thickening of the bowel wall and bloating. And Parkinson’s disease can create constipation and swallowing issues.
Secondly, medications can affect the digestive tract adversely, and most people start taking one or more medications in their 40s, 50s or 60s. Certain anti-inflammatory drugs, for example, can lead to gastritis and intestinal bleeding, said Dr. James Leavitt of Baptist Hospital in Miami, while pain medications with narcotics cause constipation.
Even conditions like depression and dementia can exacerbate gastric issues, said Leavitt, who recommends exercise to these patients.
When people go to the doctor complaining of blood in the stool, extreme weight loss or sharp stomach pains, doctors may grow concerned and do a full array of testing. But for complaints of constipation, “we can usually correct the problem by increasing fiber,’’ Leavitt said.
“If someone comes in and they are 80 and they’ve been constipated for 40 years, that’s not such a problem. We look for sudden changes … like an on-off switch has been pulled.’’
Dr. Daniel Cohen, a gastroenterologist at Memorial Hospital Pembroke, agrees. Aside from preventive medicine like colonoscopies, constipation is the No. 1 reason patients visit him.
“Some of these issues are not the most serious or life-threatening, but they do affect how people live their lives,’’ he said. “I tell patients, if you look at the largest aisle in the pharmacy, it’s for medicines for constipation.’’