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Center for Digestive Diseases

UNM Health System's Center for Digestive Diseases cares for more than 10,000 patients each year. Our physicians, staff and technology are on the leading edge of development in research, teaching and patient care. The center is a state-of-the-art facility located close to the main hospital and is solely dedicated to diagnosis and treatment of digestive diseases. Patient satisfaction is our primary goal. Our facility was designed with quality, safety, patient privacy and convenience in mind.


Our gastroenterologists treat a vast number of different digestive health conditions. Please consult your physician with any questions or concerns about any of the following.

Celiac Disease

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is a condition in which the immune system responds abnormally to a protein called gluten, which can cause damage to the lining of the small intestine. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, and a multitude of prepared foods. Thus, damage to the lining of the small intestines can lead to difficulty absorbing important nutrients; this problem is referred to as malabsorption. Celiac disease can occur in people of any age and it affects both genders.

What are the symptoms of celiac disease?

Some people with celiac disease have no symptoms. However, even without symptoms, patient may not be absorbing nutrients adequately, which can be detected with blood tests. Some people have bothersome symptoms of celiac disease, including diarrhea, weight loss, abdominal discomfort, excessive gas, and other signs and symptoms caused by vitamin and nutrient deficiencies.

What is the treatment for celiac disease?

The treatment is to stop eating gluten completely, which may be hard to do at first. Patients will need to avoid rye, wheat, barley, and maybe oats. These ingredients appear in many common foods, including bread, pasta, pastries, and cereal in addition to many sauces, spreads, and condiments.

Patient should also avoid milk, cheese, and other dairy foods at first. These foods can be hard to break down.


What is Cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis occurs when there is scar and dysfunction of the liver.

What are the symptoms of Cirrhosis?

Once cirrhosis develops the functions of the liver are compromised and bleeding, confusion or jaundice may occur. Due to the presence of scar in the liver, the blood from the intestine that normally is filtered by the liver backs up and large varicose veins can form in and around the esophagus, stomach and rectum. These can cause life-threatening bleeding. Upper gastrointestinal bleeding from the esophagus or stomach may cause black tarry stools. Due to the diminished ability to filter the blood, toxins that cause confusion may build up. This may cause patients to feel irritated, have trouble sleeping at night, sleep more during the daytime, and become disoriented or somnolent. Cirrhosis can also cause liver cancer to develop and your doctor may recommend periodic screening for liver cancer with ultrasound or CT scan and a blood test.

What causes Cirrhosis?

After years of inflammation in the liver due to viral infection, alcohol use or inflammatory conditions of the liver, scar can eventually form and the liver’s vital functions can be diminished. Chronic viral infections of the liver that can cause inflammation and eventual cirrhosis include hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Chronic alcohol use can cause inflammation of the liver over time and that inflammation can lead to cirrhosis. A common cause of is the development of fatty liver disease associated with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a family history of liver disease. Autoimmune conditions of the liver can also cause inflammation that over time may lead to scar.

What is the treatment for Cirrhosis?

The treatment for cirrhosis is aimed at correcting the underlying cause of the liver damage and treating and preventing the complications of cirrhosis. In cases where cirrhosis is severe and/or progressive, liver transplantation may be recommended. Depending on the underlying cause of cirrhosis, treatment may focus on viral infection, avoiding alcohol, losing weight, or taking medications to decrease inflammation.

Colon Cancer

What is colon cancer?

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death. Approximately 150,000 new cases of colon cancer are diagnosed every year in the United States and nearly 50,000 people die from the disease. 

What are the symptoms of colon cancer?

Colon cancer is frequently asymptomatic for many months or even years. Eventually patients may develop rectal bleeding, a change in bowel habits, abdominal distension or weight loss. Patients may also develop anemia.

What causes colon cancer?

Colon cancer becomes more frequent as you age. Conditions associated with cancer include: obesity, cigarette smoking, alcohol use, consumption of fatty foods and lack of exercise. Some people also have a genetic predisposition to develop colon cancer. 

How is colon cancer diagnosed?

Colon cancer is usually detected during a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure that allows your doctor to examine the lining of your colon (large intestine) for abnormalities by inserting a thin flexible tube with a light and camera into your rectum.

What is the treatment for colon cancer?

The treatment for colon cancer depends on the stage of the disease at the time of diagnosis. Treatment may include surgical resection with or without chemotherapy. When colon cancer is discovered early, it may be treatable by resection alone. In more advanced cases, chemotherapy may be recommended.

Colon Polyps

What are colon polyps?

Colon polyps are benign growths of tissue in the lining of the colon (large intestine). However, if left in place colon polyps can progress to become cancer. Polyps vary in size from a few millimeters to several inches in size.

What are the symptoms of colon polyps?

Most of the time colon polyps have no associated symptoms. This is why screening for colon polyps and colon cancer is important. Occasionally polyps can cause rectal bleeding or anemia.

What causes colon polyps?

Colon polyps become more frequent as you age. Conditions associated with polyps include: obesity, cigarette smoking, alcohol use, consumption of fatty foods and lack of exercise. Some people have a genetic predisposition to develop colon polyps. 

What is the treatment for colon polyps?

Colon polyps are usually removed at the time of your colonoscopy. Your doctor may remove tiny polyps using a biopsy forceps through the colonoscope. Larger polyps are removed using wire loops called “snares” passed through the colonoscope.


What is constipation?

Constipation is infrequent bowel movements or straining. Patients may develop abdominal pain or distension or firm or dry stools and passing stools may cause pain. 

What causes constipation?

Constipation can result from increased water absorption in the colon, low fiber intake or slow colon muscle contractions. Conditions associated with constipation include certain medications, irritable bowel syndrome, lack of physical activity, dehydration, ignoring the urge to defecate, neurologic problems or low thyroid activity.

What is the treatment for constipation?

Depending on the cause and severity of constipation, your doctor may recommend stopping one or more medications that cause constipation. Regular water intake can improve chronic dehydration that may cause constipation. Daily fiber supplementation increases water content in the stool and can thereby soften stool. Regular exercise may improve stool frequency. Several medications may improve stool frequency and consistency.

Crohn's Disease

What is Crohn’s disease?

Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). In this disease inflammation (swelling and irritation) typically involves the last portion of the small intestine.

What are the symptoms of Crohn’s disease?

Patients with Crohn’s disease frequently develop chronic diarrhea and chronic abdominal pain. Pain is frequently located in the right lower abdomen at the site of the terminal ileum (the last portion of the small intestine). Other symptoms can include fevers, chills, rectal bleeding, anemia, nausea or vomiting.

What causes Crohn’s disease?

The underlying cause of Crohn’s disease is still not known. Crohn’s disease involves several factors: inherited genes, the immune system, and the environment. Crohn’s disease is likely the result of an abnormal reaction by the body’s immune system to bacteria, foods, and other substances that are actually harmless or beneficial.

What is the treatment for Crohn’s disease?

Treatment may include medications and/or surgery. The specific treatment depends on the location and severity of Crohn’s disease. Medications used in Crohn’s disease include anti-inflammation medications, steroids, immune modulators, biologics, antibiotics and antidiarrheal medications.

Chronic Diarrhea

What is chronic diarrhea?

Chronic diarrhea is loose watery stools that last at least four weeks. These symptoms may be constant or may come and go.

What causes diarrhea?

Many conditions can cause chronic diarrhea, including intake of poorly absorbed foods (lactose intolerance), celiac disease, medications, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), irritable bowel disease, microscopic colitis (inflammation of the colon) infections and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.

What is the treatment for diarrhea?

Depending on the cause of diarrhea the treatment may involve antibiotics, avoiding lactose or fructose, medications that treat inflammatory bowel disease, steroids or anti-diarrheal medications. Infections are treated with targeted antibiotics. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth is also treated with antibiotics. Dietary recommendations in order to avoid lactose or fructose may be provided.

Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)

What is dysphagia?

Dysphagia is the sensation of difficulty swallowing. Patients may feel that food sticks in the back of the mouth or in the chest. Frequently patients feel food sticks at the sternal notch (the notch at the top of the breastbone). Patients may have difficulty swallowing liquids and solids or solids alone.

What causes dysphagia?

Dysphagia may be caused by esophageal strictures (narrowing), a tumor in the esophagus, inflammation of the esophagus, or gastro-esophageal reflux disease.

What is the treatment for dysphagia?

Dysphagia is treated according to the underlying cause.

Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

What is GERD?

GERD is a chronic condition in which acid or other stomach contents frequently backflow from the stomach into the esophagus and cause heartburn. Although GERD is not life threatening disease, it can affect significantly the quality of life and productivity.

What are the symptoms of GERD?

The typical symptom of GERD is heartburn, which is usually described as a burning sensation starts at the lower part of breastbone and radiate up toward the neck.

What is the treatment for GERD?

GERD is treated according to its severity. For mild cases, initial treatments include dietary and life style changes and using non-prescription medications, including antacids or histamine antagonists. Changes to diet and life style that have been recommended include weight loss, raising the head of the bed six to eight inches, avoiding acid reflux inducing foods such as excessive caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, peppermint, and fatty foods, quitting smoking, and avoiding large and late meals. Moderate or severe cases of GERD usually require treatment with prescription medications.


What are hemorrhoids?

Hemorrhoids are enlarged or inflamed veins in the lower rectum and anus. Internal hemorrhoids occur in the rectum and external hemorrhoids occur around the anus.

What are the symptoms of hemorrhoids?

Hemorrhoids frequently cause bleeding, anal pain, itching or the sensation of a nodule or bump. Internal hemorrhoids often cause rectal bleeding that is usually described as bright red blood on the toilet paper.

What causes hemorrhoids?

Straining during bowel movements, constipation, diarrhea or firm stools may cause swelling, irritation and inflammation of the anal and rectal veins, resulting in hemorrhoids.

What is the treatment for hemorrhoids?

Diets high in fiber or regular intake of fiber supplements may decrease hemorrhoid size and irritation. Hemorrhoid banding can also decrease the size of internal hemorrhoids and thereby decrease associated bleeding. Topical creams applied to the anus may decrease anal itching and pain.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

What is IBS?

IBS is a disorder characterized by cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. It causes discomfort and distress, but it does not permanently harm the intestines and does not lead to a serious disease, such as cancer. Usually symptoms can be controlled with diet, stress management and medication. Approximately 20 percent of American adults have symptoms of IBS, making it one of the most common disorders diagnosed by doctors. It occurs more often in women than in men, and it frequently begins before age 40.

What are the symptoms of IBS?

Abdominal pain bloating and changes in bowel movements characterize IBS. However, symptoms can vary from person to person. Some people have constipation while others experience diarrhea. Other people with IBS alternate between constipation and diarrhea. Straining, cramping or passage of only small amounts of stool when trying to have a bowel movement may occur.

What is the treatment for IBS?

No single cure has been found for IBS, but there are several approaches to treat the symptoms of IBS. Your doctor may recommend medications, stress reduction or dietary changes aimed at your particular symptoms.

Lactose Intolerance

What is lactose intolerance?

Lactose is a sugar that is present in milk and therefore commonly found in ice cream, cheese and other milk-containing products. In order to be absorbed, lactose must first be broken down by an enzyme called lactase in the lining of the small intestine. Lactose intolerance is a condition in which there are insufficient levels of lactase in the small intestine. 

What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance?

Deficiency of lactase results in a lack of absorption of lactose. As a result lactose is broken down in the small intestine by bacteria into gases that cause bloating and flatulence and other compounds that are irritating to the colon and cause diarrhea. 

What is the treatment for lactose intolerance?

The mainstay of treatment is to avoid dairy products (milk, cheese, ice cream and other milk-containing products). Usually small amounts of dairy products are tolerated without symptoms. 


What is Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is a process in which inflammation develops in the pancreas, which is an organ in your upper abdomen that plays a role in digestion and endocrine secretion. If the inflammation begins suddenly, it is called acute pancreatitis. Inflammation and damage that persists to some degree for many years is called chronic pancreatitis. The severity of acute pancreatitis ranges from a mild, self-limited disease to a catastrophic one with life-threatening complications. 

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?

The most common symptom of pancreatitis is pain located in the middle part of the upper abdomen that sometimes radiates through to the back. Nausea and vomiting is also common. These symptoms are often made worse by eating.

What causes pancreatitis?

The two most common causes of pancreatitis are excessive alcohol consumption and gallstone disease.

What is the treatment for pancreatitis?

There is not a specific medication to treat pancreatitis. The main treatment approach is “supportive care.” Patients need aggressive intravenous fluid hydration and are not allowed to eat. Often pain medication and anti-nausea medication are helpful in controlling symptoms.

To schedule an appointment please call 505-272-2530 or 505-925-6000.

Contact Us

1001 Martin Luther King Ave. NE
Albuquerque, NM 87106

Our office is just east of I-25 on the north side of MLK.

505-272-2530 or

Clinic Fax (Referrals/Prescriptions): 505-925-7849

photo: UNM Center for Digestive Diseases building
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