Gastrointestinal (GI) diseases is the term used to refer to any condition or disease that occurs within the gastrointestinal tract.
The gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) is made of a series of organs that form the continuous passage from our mouth to our anus. The organs that make up our gastrointestinal tract are our mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine and anus. Our gastrointestinal tract, together with our liver, pancreas, and gallbladder, make up our digestive system.
A number of different conditions or diseases can affect the gastrointestinal tract and have an impact on digestion and our overall health. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, somewhere between 60 million and 70 million Americans suffer from gastrointestinal problems. In this blog, we will lay out exactly what gastrointestinal diseases are, factors that affect the gastrointestinal tract, causes and symptoms, and the most common gastrointestinal diseases.
- Functional Gastrointestinal Diseases
- Structural Gastrointestinal Diseases
- Common Gastrointestinal Diseases
- General Symptoms
- Causes of Gastrointestinal Diseases
What are gastrointestinal diseases?
Gastrointestinal diseases affect the gastrointestinal (GI) tract from the mouth to the anus. There are two types: functional and structural.
Functional Gastrointestinal Diseases
Functional gastrointestinal diseases are those in which the gastrointestinal tract looks normal when examined, but doesn't move properly. They are the most common problems affecting the gastrointestinal tract. Constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), nausea, food poisoning, gas, bloating, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and diarrhea are common examples (see here for treatments).
- Many factors may upset your gastrointestinal (GI) tract and its motility, including:
- Eating low fiber diet
- Not getting enough exercise
- Traveling or changes in routine
- Eating large amounts of dairy products
- Resisting the urge to have a bowel movement
- Overusing anti-diarrheal medications
- Taking antacid medicines containing calcium or aluminum
- Taking certain medicines (antidepressants, iron pills and strong pain medication)
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Structural Gastrointestinal Diseases
Structural gastrointestinal diseases are those where your bowel looks abnormal upon examination and also doesn't work properly. Sometimes, the structural abnormality needs to be removed surgically. Common examples of structural gastrointestinal diseases include strictures, stenosis, hemorrhoids, diverticular disease, colon polyps, colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.
What are common gastrointestinal diseases?
- Celiac Disease
- Crohn’s Disease
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
- Hepatitis C
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Liver Disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
Celiac disease is a multifactorial gastrointestinal disorder, meaning it is triggered by factors in the environment. Celiac is caused by an autoimmune reaction to gluten which destroys villi, small hair-like projections on the lining of the small bowel. When the villi are destroyed, the small intestine is unable to effectively absorb nutrients, vitamins, and minerals from food. This results in malnutrition and can lead to many serious health problems, including infertility, permanent damage to the small bowel, and even the big “c” - intestinal lymphoma.
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory digestive disease that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus. It most commonly however involves the ileum (the lower side of the small bowel) that becomes ulcerated and inflamed. Along with ulcerative colitis, this condition is part of a group of gastrointestinal disorders called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Crohn’s disease is most often diagnosed in those aged between 15 and 30, although it can develop at any age. According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, around 780,000 individuals in the U.S. have Crohn’s disease.
The condition diverticulosis is characterized by the formation of small pockets or pouches called diverticula in the lower part of the inner lining of the colon (the large intestine). Diverticulitis refers to the inflammation of these pockets, that become swollen with waste and get infected. This can lead to a range of mild to serious complications, including rectal bleeding. Diverticulitis occurs in severe or advanced diverticulosis.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is defined as having symptoms of acid reflux twice or more times a week. Acid reflux or heartburn occurs when stomach contents and acids spill over into your esophagus, causing a burning sensation and chest pain. If not treated early, frequent bouts of heartburn can damage the esophagus. GERD usually manifests itself as a dry cough, discomfort in the chest area, sore throat, swallowing difficulties and sour taste in the back of the mouth.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a group of gastrointestinal conditions where a combination of frequent abdominal pain, bloating and cramps is associated with either diarrhea or constipation. This occurs by any underlying inflammation, chemical or anatomical abnormalities, and is caused by a variety of factors, including irritated gut microbiota. Contrary to common misconception, this condition is not the same as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), a set of digestive disorders including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease that cause inflammation of various parts of the gastrointestinal tract. Some of the risk factors include being stressed and consumption of certain medicines and foods. Women are more susceptible to IBS than men.
The liver is the second largest organ and plays a varied role in digestion, including breaking down of food, storing energy, and getting rid of waste and toxins from the bloodstream. Liver disease is a collective term for all digestive conditions that affect the liver. While the causes may be different, they can all damage your liver and affect its function.
Ulcerative colitis is one of the two most common inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), along with Crohn’s disease. This diagnosis refers to a group of digestive disorders that cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Ulcerative colitis is caused by the inflammation of the inner lining of the colon (large intestine), rectum or both.
What are general symptoms of gastrointestinal conditions?
Symptoms of digestive disorders vary by each person's condition. However, some symptoms are more common to gastrointestinal problems. These common symptoms include:
- Acid reflux (heartburn)
- Abdominal discomfort (bloating, pain or cramps)
- Diarrhea, constipation (or sometimes both)
- Difficulty swallowing
- Fecal incontinence
- Loss of appetite
- Unintentional weight loss
- Vomiting and nausea
What causes gastrointestinal conditions?
Causes of digestive disorders vary, however, common causes include:
- Consuming a lot of dairy
- Inactive lifestyle
- A low fiber diet
- Not drinking enough water
Gastroenterology At Senderra Specialty Pharmacy
As a Gastroenterology-focused Specialty Pharmacy, our pharmacists are trained to supervise the prescribed drug therapies for Gastroenterology patients. At Senderra, we understand the difficulty associated with managing the complex treatment plans and medications required for gastroenterological conditions such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.
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