Disorders in the digestive system (gastrointestinal) are all problems and diseases that simultaneously affect several parts of the digestive system, while others only affect one part or one organ. There are many of them, their cause varies and can also be attributed to food allergies or intolerances.
The common gastrointestinal problems
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Heartburn happens, but if it occurs regularly, it needs to be evaluated for GERD. A medical provider can often diagnose GERD based on a description of symptoms alone, but if the problem has been ongoing for some time, additional diagnostic testing may be necessary to evaluate if the disease has caused damage to the esophagus.
GERD most often presents as heartburn, but uncontrolled GERD can erode the lining of the esophagus and lead to bleeding. The condition can also cause pain in the chest so extreme that it is sometimes mistaken for a heart attack.
Controlling GERD usually begins with simple lifestyle changes, including avoiding food for at least two hours before bedtime. Over-the-counter remedies can also provide some short-term relief for occasional heartburn, but for chronic or serious GERD, prescription medication or even surgery may be necessary.
Diarrhea: Loose stool often three or more times a day that lasts for at least four weeks could be cause for concern.
Diarrhea is a result of the body’s inability to absorb foods as with celiac disease and foods containing gluten or a disease or disorder, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
Chronic constipation is typically defined as having fewer than three bowel movements a week for three weeks or longer. It may also be the case that stools are hard and difficult to pass.
And like diarrhea, the cause of chronic constipation can be difficult to diagnose. Treating the condition can begin with over-the-counter remedies, such as stool softeners and fiber supplements. Adding more fluids to the diet may help. If those fail to bring relief, a physician may recommend some exercise to strengthen the muscles that move the stool through the bowels.
Viral gastroenteritis is an intestinal infection marked by watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea or vomiting, and sometimes fever. The most common way to develop viral gastroenteritis often called stomach flu is through contact with an infected person or by ingesting contaminated food or water.
Peptic ulcers are most likely caused by either bacteria in the stomach or heavy use of over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
The bacteria or NSAIDs can damage the mucus that lines the inside of the stomach, exposing the interior of the stomach to acid which irritates the tissue and causes the peptic ulcer. Essentially a sore on the inside of the stomach can be very difficult to resolve because of the constant exposure to stomach acid.
Hemorrhoids are clumps of dilated (enlarged) blood vessels in the anus and lower rectum. The rectum is the last area of the large intestine before it exits to the anus. The anus is the end of the digestive tract where feces leaves the body.
Sometimes hemorrhoids swell when the veins enlarge and their walls become stretched, thin, and irritated by passing stool.
Hemorrhoids are classified into two general categories:
● internal, originating in the rectum, and
● external, originating in the anus.
Hemorrhoids are also termed piles. Hemorrhoids tend to cause pain or itching around the anus.
The causes of digestive disorders are multiple. Sometimes a digestive disorder is restricted to the digestive system, and sometimes it is a symptom of a wider systemic problem.
Some digestive disorders could have more than one cause, as well as multiple symptoms, and could affect more than one section of the digestive system.
Many different factors cause digestive diseases. Some common causes are bacterial infection, viral infection, inflammation, lactase deficiency, difficulty digesting certain foods, poor circulation to the intestines or other organs, ruptured or perforated organs, muscle dysfunction, gallstones, stress, and side effects of anti-inflammatory drugs.
Dietary factors include overeating, eating too much fatty food, not consuming enough fiber, and consuming too much alcohol. Smoking can also contribute to some digestive diseases, including ulcers and gastric acid reflux.
While a disorder could have a specific cause, there could be other factors exacerbating the symptoms. The causes of some digestive disorders, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, are not clear, says the Merck Manuals.
A good example of a cause and a contributory factor to a disorder would be in the case of a stomach ulcer, which is caused by the bacterium helicobacter pylori, but the pain caused by a stomach ulcer could be made worse by the eating of spicy food and the drinking of alcohol.
Some digestive disorders are long-lasting and serious, whereas others resolve themselves in a few days and have no permanent effects.
Food allergies and food intolerance: Read more here about the difference between food allergies and food intolerance. Certain foods can cause allergic reactions, including the swelling of the lips, mouth, the back of the throat. They can also lead to nausea and vomiting, but this will take longer to develop. Abdominal pain can also be caused by food intolerance.
Poor diet: A diet high in fatty, fried, and sugary foods and low in fiber can cause stool to pass more slowly through the colon. Inadequate water intake can also lead to constipation, and this can contribute to many other digestive disorders.
Viral or bacterial infection: and parasites. Bacteria, viruses, and parasites can get into the digestive system by means of contact with contaminated surfaces, or contact with infected stools and then ingesting the germs or from eating infected food or drinking infected water.
Salmonella, Escherischia coli, cholera, and the rotavirus can cause bacterial infections. So-called ‘stomach flu’ is actually gastro-enteritis, which can be caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites. The most common symptom of all of these is acute diarrhoea. Antibiotics can be used to treat bacterial and parasitic infections, but not viral infections. Dehydration is the biggest danger of acute diarrhoea, especially in young children.
Inflammation and auto-immune diseases: These disorders, in which the immune system attacks and harms the body’s own tissues, can involve any part of the digestive system, according to the journal Maedica.
Auto-immune diseases that affect the digestive tract include systemic lupus erymathosus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s Syndrome and scleroderma, to name but a few. Systemic autoimmune diseases cause a variety of gastro-intestinal problems.
Structural causes: A structural abnormality in the digestive system (such as the pouches that develop in the intestines of someone with diverticulosis) can hamper the working of the digestive system. An ulcer in the stomach lining or the intestines would be another example, as would be a cancerous tumor.
Genetic causes: Some digestive diseases are thought to be hereditary. These include colon cancer, Crohn’s disease, diabetes type 1, pancreatic cancer, hypothyroidism, cystic fibrosis, coeliac disease, and some liver diseases. As the digestive system consists of so many different parts, only the most common ones are listed here. Read more about the organs of the digestive system and what could go wrong with them.
Lifestyle choices: Constant high-stress levels, a lack of exercise, smoking, and drinking can all affect the digestive system. While it is difficult to isolate a single cause of something such as GORD, a healthy lifestyle and diet choices can relieve the severity and the frequency of episodes of this disorder.
Medication side effects: Many medicines, such as certain antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, and certain diabetes medications, to name but a few, can have side effects that involve the digestive system. Nausea, diarrhoea, ulceration and constipation count among these.
Cancer: Gastro-intestinal cancer is a term for the group of cancers that affect the digestive system, says the GI Cancer Institute. This includes cancers of the throat, gallbladder, liver, pancreas, stomach, small intestine, large intestine and anus. Cancer is a malignant growth or tumor caused by an uncontrolled division of cells, which can spread into surrounding tissues.
Post-surgical effects: Surgery changes most of the time the anatomy of the digestive tract. Problems include chronic diarrhea after gall bladder surgery or resection of part of the bowel, pain or even obstruction of the bowel, malabsorption (i.e. vitamin B12 deficiency in surgery for Crohn’s disease, or iron deficiency after stomach resection, etc.), and diabetes after pancreas resection.
Functional problems: Very commonly patients experience symptoms related to the gastro-intestinal system, but all the tests are normal. This can be frustrating to both patient and doctor because it is difficult to treat. Irritable bowel syndrome is one of these functional disorders. The tests usually exclude other serious diseases such as cancer, but the symptoms often affect the patient’s quality of life.
Aging: Unfortunately the gastrointestinal system ages with the rest of our bodies. Our saliva decreases, the taste is affected, reflux gets worse, motility if affected, the diverticular disease develops, etc. We should also be aware that the risk for certain cancers also increases. The recent onset of new symptoms should therefore not be ignored.
Systemic diseases: Many systemic diseases affect our gastrointestinal systems, such as autoimmune diseases (i.e. scleroderma that affects the motility of the gut), heart failure (the chronic congestion can cause liver cirrhosis), genetic diseases, HIV, and diabetes.
The first sign of problems in the digestive tract often includes one or more of the following symptoms:
• Nausea and vomiting
• Pain in the belly
• Swallowing problems
• Weight gain or loss
A digestive disease is any health problem that occurs in the digestive tract. Conditions may range from mild to serious. Some common problems include heartburn, cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, and lactose intolerance.
Diet and lifestyle changes can make a big difference: Often, treatments can be as simple as making lifestyle changes or taking over-the-counter remedies. But sometimes they can be a signal of serious illness and will require medication and surgery apart from the change in diet.
When to see a doctor
Digestive symptoms are usually harmless and often settle down by themselves, but sometimes they do not go away and can be a signal of serious illness.
Anyone who has taken a pharmacy remedy for a digestive problem for 2 weeks with no improvement to see their GP.
The 5 symptoms, which mean you should see a doctor straight away.
These symptoms may be a warning of a serious digestive illness:
• a sudden, persistent change in the pattern of how your bowels work
• bleeding from the bottom
• worsening heartburn, indigestion, or stomach pain
• losing weight unexpectedly
https://www.tanner.org/the-scope/6-common-digestive-disorders https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/common-digestive-problems-and-how-to-treat-them/ https://www.health24.com/Medical/Digestive-health/Overview/Causes-of-digestive-disorders-20150330