The gastrointestinal tract is a long tube which extends from the oral cavity from where the food is taken in, to the anus from where the food is expelled. The gastrointestinal organs include the esophagus, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, anus as well as the gall bladder. Due to various reasons, these days the gastric problems are on the rise. This article focusses on some of the common gastrointestinal tract disorders.
9 Common Gastrointestinal Tract Disorders
The gastrointestinal organs include the esophagus, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and the anus. Gallbladder which performs the function of storing bile and releasing it into the intestine for digestion is also considered a part of the gastrointestinal tract. The function of the gastrointestinal tract is to absorb the nutrients present in food, and it starts as soon as the food enters the mouth. The food is broken and digested in this tract. In gastrointestinal tract disorder, these functions are impaired, the digestion of food is reduced and so is the absorption of the nutrients. The unabsorbed nutrients are expelled out through the feces.
Here are some important and common gastrointestinal disorders:
#1. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
It is usually a chronic problem and one of the common gastrointestinal tract disorders affecting most of the population nowadays. The presenting complaint is reflux of food from the stomach to the esophagus, accompanied with burning pain in the middle of the chest. It often occurs after meals.
The common symptoms of this gastrointestinal tract disorder are:
- Persistent heartburn
- Tooth erosion
- Pain in the chest or upper abdomen
- Trouble swallowing and breathing
It is common for anyone to experience reflux or heartburn once in a while, if in case the symptom becomes frequent, it could be a sign of GERD. Symptoms can be relieved by avoiding the food and beverages causing it or by taking over the counter medications. Hence, it is important to seek timely medical advice.
#2. Ulcerative Colitis
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease where mostly the large intestine or the colon is affected. This too is one of the common gastrointestinal tract disorders. There is development of sores or ulcers in the lining of the colon.
The symptoms vary according to the part of intestine affected and the severity of the disease. The symptoms presented by the patients suffering from ulcerative colitis are:
- Frequent urgent bowel movements
- Pain with diarrhea
- Abdominal cramps
- Blood in stool
- Weight loss
The symptoms if noticed should be corrected or else can end-up in severe complications. In severe cases, the treatment might involve surgery to remove the colon.
The gallbladder is a pear-shaped sack that stores and secretes bile. Gallstones are the hard deposits of the cholesterol and waste in the bile. Gallstones also form when the gallbladder does not empty properly or when there are issues in metabolism of cholesterol. Gallstones have increasingly become one of the common gastrointestinal disorders.
Most of the people might not even know that they have gallstone unless they show up in any diagnostic test like scans. The common symptoms of gallstones are,
Medications might sometimes dissolve the stone but if they fail to, surgical removal of the gallbladder is the next option.
#4. Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease is a digestive disorder and a type of inflammatory bowel disease affecting the terminal ileum that connects the small bowel and the beginning of the colon. It can also occur in other parts of the digestive tract. The inflammation caused even spreads to the deeper tissues of the bowel.
The symptoms can range from mild to severe, can develop gradually or suddenly. There can be a time when the patient presents no symptom at all. Being an inflammatory disease, this common gastrointestinal tract disorder may also be associated other inflammatory conditions that must be treated in time.
An active Crohn’s disease might present the following signs and symptoms,
- Abdominal pain
- Mouth sores
- Loss of appetite
- Blood in stool
- Weight loss
The treatment relays on the symptoms presented by the patient and can include immunosuppressant or topical pain relievers.
#5. Celiac Disease
Sensitivity to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye or barley) leads to celiac disease. It is a serious autoimmune disorder, in which gluten intake leads to damage to the small intestine. This is one of the common gastrointestinal disorders, where in, when the person eats gluten the immune system attacks the small intestine, which causes damage to the villi present in it for the nutrient absorption from the food eaten.
The symptoms of celiac disease are,
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Bone loss
- Depression and seizure
Most people do not show any symptoms. The treatment of celiac disease is to avoid the cause i.e. eating food with gluten.
#6. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a very common gastrointestinal tract disorder. If you are suffering from an irritable digestive tract or you have pain or discomfort in the stomach at least 3 times in a month, then it could be you are suffering from IBS.
The symptoms vary widely such as,
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Very hard or very loose watery stool
The treatment centers largely on improving the diet, eating high-fiber meals, increasing probiotic intake, and avoiding foods which triggers the symptoms and managing stress.
Hemorrhoids or piles are the inflammation of the blood vessels at the end of the digestive tract. These too are one of the extremely common gastrointestinal disorders. They occur due to excessive straining at stool, chronic constipation, diarrhea, and lack of fiber in the diet.
The most common symptoms are,
- Pain while passing stool
- Itching around anus
- Difficulty while sitting
The treatment is based on the symptoms and often includes, local application for itching and pain (they provide temporary relief), improving the diet to relieve constipation, advising exercises and increasing water intake. If all these do not help then the doctor might advise surgical removal of the hemorrhoids.
#8. Anal Fissure
Tear in the lining and the end of the digestive tract or the anus is known as the anal fissure, which is one of the common gastrointestinal tract disorders. Straining at stool or hard bowel movements and even diarrhea and soft stool can lead to fissures.
Anal fissures can lead to one or more of the following symptoms,
- Visible tear around the anus
- Pain in anus while passing stool
- A skin tag near the tear
- Little blood in the stool
- Burning and itching around the anal region
A diet rich in fiber is the best-recommended treatment for this digestive tract disorder. Medications can be taken to relieve the pain, itching and to relax the anal sphincter muscles. Topical anesthetics and sitz bath also give relief. Chronic fissures might require surgery of the anal sphincter muscle.
Inflammation of the diverticula that develop in the weak spots of the lining of the walls of the intestine is termed as diverticulitis. It is most commonly found in the colon and is considered as one common gastrointestinal disorders. A major risk factor of diverticulitis is obesity.
The symptoms of diverticulitis are,
- Pain on the left side of the abdomen, which disappear after passing stool or passing gas
- Bright red blood in the stool
Antibiotic treatment and clear liquid diet work well for mild diverticulitis. The doctor might also advise a high-fiber diet including whole grains, legumes, and vegetables. If the condition recurs then the patient might need a surgery to remove the affected part of the colon.
Most of the common gastrointestinal tract disorders can be prevented by following a healthy routine which includes, a healthy diet and exercise schedule. Having knowledge of the symptoms is very necessary to avoid the treatment delays.
- Mayo Clinic. (2021). Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/symptoms-causes/syc-20361940
- Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. (n.d.). Ulcerative colitis. https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-is-ulcerative-colitis
- Mayo Clinic. (2021). Gallstones. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gallstones/symptoms-causes/syc-20354214
- Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. (n.d.). Crohn’s disease. https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-is-crohns-disease
- Celiac Disease Foundation. (2021). Celiac disease symptoms. https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/symptoms-of-celiac-disease/
- Mayo Clinic. (2021). Hemorrhoids. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hemorrhoids/symptoms-causes/syc-20360268
- American Society of Colon & Rectal Surgeons. (2021). Anal fissure. https://www.fascrs.org/patients/disease-condition/anal-fissure-expanded-information
- Mayo Clinic. (2021). Diverticulitis. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diverticulitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20371758