America has a digestive health problem. With more than 70 million people affected by a wide range of digestive diseases— including peptic ulcer disease, lactose intolerance, and heartburn— this health issue is causing more than just discomfort. The National Institutes of Health estimates that digestive diseases cause up to 234,000 deaths each year, including deaths from related cancers. Additionally, more than 14% of all in-patient hospitalization procedures are due to gastric diagnosis and therapeutic procedures.
What’s the total cost for digestive diseases in this country? It’s astronomical: $141.8 billion, which includes estimated direct and indirect costs. A comprehensive report from the US Department of Health and Human Services, “The Burden of Digestive Diseases in the United States,” incorporates the current available data on all aspects of the epidemiology, practice patterns, cost, and impact of digestive diseases in the United States. According to the report, digestive diseases accounted for more than 104 million ambulatory care visits, which equated to a rate of 35,684 visits per every 100,000 U.S. citizens. For every 100 US residents, there were 35 ambulatory care visits at which a digestive disease diagnosis was noted. Such visits were common for all age groups, but the highest rate was among people aged 65 years and older.
Lifestyle choices have a big impact on the prevalence and severity of digestive health conditions; thus, the pharmacist can have a major impact through counseling and education. Personal responsibility also must play a big role, however. Prevention of digestive health conditions would be significantly enhanced by reforms to our health care system that give patients greater incentive to make healthy choices. As with so many other lifestyle choices that contribute to disease, health care reimbursement models that shield consumers from the true costs of care exacerbate the need for treatments and the ever-spiraling costs.
Our annual Digestive Health issue presents clinical information that pharmacists can use to provide patients with the most up-to-the-minute information. With an estimated 50 million people affected by lactose intolerance, for example, it’s critical that health care professionals stay current. For example, earlier this year, the National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference Panel reviewed the scientific perceptions on lactose intolerance and discovered that a large proportion of individuals who think they are lactose intolerant are actually not—and they put their health in jeopardy by avoiding dairy products. Our cover story, “Got Lactose Intolerance? How to Ensure Patients Do Not Miss Out on Essential Nutrients” (page 44), updates pharmacists on this important topic.
This issue also includes articles on how to help patients with heartburn find the right OTC products (page 14), new Rx treatment options for Crohn’s disease (page 28), and advances in peptic ulcer disease treatment (page 48)—providing pharmacists with a wealth of valuable information they can use in their everyday practice.
Thank you for reading!