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Johns Hopkins Health - On the Right Tract

Spring 2009
Issue No. 4

On the Right Tract

Date: April 24, 2009

couple on beach

Chronic gut problems affect millions, filling doctors’ offices with patients and pharmacy counters with drugs. Sometimes, the best treatment combines old and new

People with chronic digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, GERD and gastroparesis are often facing off against the persnickety nature of their conditions, particularly where treatments are concerned.

“One patient can respond completely differently to a specific treatment than another patient with the same symptoms,” says gastroenterologist Linda Lee, M.D. “Or a treatment becomes ineffective after having worked for some time.”

Old Meets New
For chronic GI conditions, sustained answers are as complex as the human body itself. Drugs—over the counter and prescription—are often the focus.

“We often think good medicine is the high-tech drugs, procedures and tests,” Lee says. “But it’s not always just about prescribing a drug or scheduling a procedure.”

Lee—a conventionally trained gastroenterologist—heads the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center, which draws on the expertise of both traditional and complementary medicine specialists, such as acupuncturists and medical massage therapists. It’s a comprehensive care approach that addresses the needs of the whole person, Lee says, and is a powerful resource for patients who struggle with chronic GI conditions.

More Women Than Men
Good nutrition and stress reduction are areas that can have a huge impact on GI problems, for example. Also, women in particular outnumber men when it comes to GI conditions such as IBS and gastroparesis, and the center focuses on those gender susceptibilities.

Gastroparesis—a delayed emptying of the stomach that causes symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and bloating—is a classic example both of a condition that affects primarily women and for which physicians may reach first for the pharmacologic solution.

“The problem,” Lee says, “is that the only FDA-approved drug for gastroparesis can have terrible side effects. So, in this case as in so many other GI illnesses, we really need to be thinking beyond a pharmacologic approach about how we’re treating our patients.”

Stats and Facts

  • More than 95 million Americans experience some kind of digestive problem.
  • More than 10 million are hospitalized each year to treat digestive problems.
  • Digestive diseases rank second among all causes of disability due to illness in the U.S.
  • Annual sales of prescription and over-the-counter drugs for GI problems is about $2.5 billion.

Learn more about the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center at, including podcasts. Call 877-546-1872 for appointments or consultations.

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