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Food Allergy Could be Irritable Bowel, Eosinophilic Esophagitis


If you think you have a food allergy - and more than 30 percent of Americans think they do - a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association says the figure is less than 10 percent. Don't worry, you are not imagining things. However, you are likely experiencing some other condition, such as irritable bowel or eosinophilic esophagitis.

That is the word from Dr. Anish Sheth, a gastroenterologist who has many patients who come in complaining that they have food allergies, he told FoxNews.com. Often, however, what they have “is a case of irritable bowel syndrome,” he said. Another is eosinophilic esophagitis, which is inflammation of the esophagus, which can cause symptoms similar to those of an allergic food reaction.

Irritable bowel syndrome affects about 20 percent of the adult population in the United States, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Common symptoms include abdominal pain and bloating, which some people may mistake for a food allergy reaction, as well as constipation, cramping, and diarrhea. It is one of the most common disorders diagnosed by physicians.

One of the main ways to control irritable bowel syndrome is by making changes in the diet—eliminating certain foods—which is one reason why people may think they have a food allergy. If they stop eating a certain food and they begin to feel better, they may think they were allergic to the item. Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome often includes changing the diet, stress management, and use of medications.

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Eosinophilic esophagitis is an allergic inflammatory disease that is characterized by elevated levels of white blood cells called eosinophils in the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. According to the American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders, these eosinophils damage the esophagus and persist even when people are treated with acid-blocking medications.

Symptoms of eosinophilic esophagitis vary among individuals and may differ depending on age. Common symptoms include reflux that does not get better after taking acid reflux medication, difficulty swallowing, food getting stuck in the esophagus, nausea, vomiting, abdominal or chest pain, and in children, failure to thrive, poor growth, and refusing to eat.

Eosinophilic esophagitis can affect people of all ages and backgrounds, although males are more commonly affected than females. People who have eosinophilic esophagitis often have other allergic diseases, such as asthma, eczema, or rhinitis. Eosinophilic esophagitis can be driven by food intolerance or allergies. Sheth noted that eosinophilic esophagitis is becoming more common.

If you think you have a food allergy, you may really have irritable bowel syndrome or eosinophilic esophagitis. Only a knowledgeable healthcare professional can give you an accurate diagnosis. It can be very helpful if you take careful notes of what you eat, any symptoms you experience and when they occur, and what treatment attempts have been helpful, if any, before you go to see your doctor.

American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders
FoxNews.com May 14, 2010
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases



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