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Gastrointestinal Health

Gastroenterology is a medical specialty that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the digestive system. Such disorders may involve the digestive tract, the pancreas, the liver, or the gallbladder.

Gastrointestinal problems are among the illnesses reported by many Gulf War Veterans following service in the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is marked by chronic, cramping, bloating, and diarrhea, was identified by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences as one of a range of illnesses Gulf War Veterans have incurred.

VA researchers have long worked to help Veterans with a number of digestive ailments. In 1955, Dr. Morton I. Grossman became chief of gastroenterology at the Greater Los Angeles VA Medical Center. Dr. Grossman is considered the father of modern gastrointestinal physiology.   Learn more.

VA’s Major Gastrointestinal Health Accomplishments:

  • 1950s: Greatly expanded, through the work of Dr. Morton I. Grossman, our understanding of the physiology and regulation of gastrointestinal secretions
  • 1977: Received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine (Dr. Rosalyn Yalow), for developing a new way to measure insulin and other hormones in the blood
  • 2004: Found that the open technique is superior to the laparoscopic technique for mesh repair of primary hernias
  • 2013
    o Learned that treatment with the drug infliximab and an immunomodulator significantly reduces the risk of hospitalization and surgery
    o Determined that weight is not a factor in whether or not proton-pump inhibitors can successfully treat gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • 2015: Found that giving spores of non-toxic Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) by mouth can stop repeated bouts of infection

Below is a news story that illustrates VA’s commitment to advancing technology and research initiatives to benefit our nation’s Veterans.

Kelly Davis (pictured in pharmacy), a pharmacist at the Lexington VA Medical Center in Kentucky, is part of a team working to reduce inappropriate use of proton pump inhibitors. (Photo by Candace Woods)Kelly Davis, a pharmacist at the Lexington VA Medical Center in Kentucky, is part of a team working to reduce inappropriate use of proton pump inhibitors. (Photo by Candace Woods)

Acid Reduction

VA hospital implements program to monitor use of popular but potentially harmful drug class

They are among the most popular drugs on the market. They are also a much-overused class of medications.

They’re called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). Examples include the brands Nexium, Prilosec, and Prevacid.

PPIs are the most potent drugs for producing long-term acid reduction in the stomach. Millions of Americans take them for ulcers, heartburn, or acid reflux. They are effective and well-tolerated when used properly.

However, studies show that up to 60 percent of PPI prescriptions may lack an evidence-based indication, meaning they are used without a clear purpose. Long-term use of PPIs has been linked to pneumonia; low levels of magnesium; bone fractures; higher risk of heart attack; Clostridium difficile, a bacterium that can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon; and an excess risk of death.

With the potential misuse of PPIs in mind, staff at the Lexington VA Medical Center in Kentucky implemented a PPI stewardship program. The program, which has been running for nearly two years, is aimed at decreasing unnecessary PPI use and reducing the risk of serious side effects.  Read more..

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