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Digestive Conditions

Digestive diseases are disorders of the digestive tract, which is sometimes called the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The digestive tract is made up of the esophagus (food tube), stomach, large and small intestines, liver, pancreas, and the gallbladder.

A digestive disease is any health problem that occurs in the digestive tract. Conditions may range from mild to serious. Some common problems include cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, and lactose intolerance. Other digestive diseases include:

  • Gallstones, cholecystitis, and cholangitis
  • Rectal problems, such as anal fissure, hemorrhoids, proctitis, and rectal prolapse
  • Esophagus problems, such as stricture (narrowing) and achalasia and esophagitis
  • Stomach problems, including gastritis, gastric ulcers usually caused by Helicobacter pylori infection and cancer
  • Liver problems, such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C, cirrhosis, liver failure, and autoimmune and alcoholic hepatitis
  • Pancreatitis and pancreatic pseudocyst
  • Intestinal problems, such as polyps and cancer, infections, celiac disease, Crohn disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, malabsorption, short bowel syndrome, and intestinal ischemia
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcer disease, and hiatal hernia

Digestive Diseases

Causes

  • Eating a diet low in fiber
  • Not enough exercise
  • Traveling or other changes in routine
  • Eating large amounts of dairy products
  • Stress
  • Resisting the urge to have a bowel movement
  • Resisting the urge to have bowel movements due to pain from hemorrhoids
  • Overusing laxatives (stool softeners) that, over time, weaken the bowel muscles
  • Taking antacid medicines containing calcium or aluminum
  • Taking certain medicines (especially antidepressants, iron pills, and strong pain medicines such as narcotics)
  • Drinking excessively
  • Pregnancy

Symptoms

  • Bleeding
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn
  • Incontinence
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain in the belly
  • Swallowing problems
  • Weight gain or loss

Diagnosis

Tests for digestive problems can include colonoscopy, upper GI endoscopy, capsule endoscopy, endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), and endoscopic ultrasound.

Treatment

Many surgical procedures are performed on the digestive tract. These include procedures done using endoscopy, laparoscopy, and open surgery. Organ transplants can be performed on the liver, pancreas, and small intestine.

Managing Your Condition

  • Eat slower.
  • Enjoy smaller meals.
  • Try to limit how much you eat after dark.
  • Manage stress.
  • Try to eat around the same times each day.
  • Talk with your doctor about taking probiotics (supplemental healthful bacteria).

Additional resources