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Digestive System Disorders

You’ve likely experienced digestive symptoms that resolve on their own, such as heartburn, gas, or stomach aches. If you’re suffering with chronic digestive symptoms, you may have an underlying digestive system disorder that needs to be treated. 

Digestive system disorders affect the digestive system, including the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and others. In this article, we’ll discuss nine common digestive system disorders. 

1. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Experiencing heart burn or acid reflux a couple of days a week or more may indicate that you have GERD. When you swallow, the food you consume is moved into your stomach via the esophagus. 

A small ring of muscles, the lower esophageal sphincter, connects the esophagus and the stomach. If this ring of muscles is weak, it can allow stomach acid to flow backwards into your esophagus, resulting in heartburn. Overtime, this backflow of stomach acid can damage your esophagus. 

Symptoms of GERD may include:

  • A burning sensation in the middle of your chest, that is worse after meals or at night. 
  • Back up of acid or undigested food into the throat or mouth.
  • Bad breath. 
  • Tooth erosion. 
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing. 
  • Nausea and/or vomiting. 
  • Sore throat.
  • Belching.
  • Dry cough.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Hiccups.
  • Bloating.

2. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a condition in which the muscles of your colon contract more than normal. IBS refers to a group of symptoms including bowel movement changes and abdominal pain. These symptoms occur at least three times a month for three months in a row. 

Triggers for IBS may include certain foods, medications, infections, anxiety, depression and/or stress. 

Symptoms of IBS may include:

  • Abdominal cramps and pain. 
  • Excessive gas. 
  • Bloating. 
  • Bowel habit changes (changes in consistency/frequency). 
  • Bouts of alternating diarrhea and constipation. 
  • Mucus in the stool. 
  • Feeling of an incomplete bowel movement.

3. Celiac Disease

This disease involves a sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Eating gluten results in the immune system attacking the body and causing damage to the villi in the small intestine. The small intestine is responsible for nutrient absorption so damage to its lining can lead to malabsorption.

Symptoms of celiac disease in children may include:

  • Bloating.
  • Abdominal pain. 
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea.
  • Constipation. 
  • Weight loss. 

Symptoms of celiac disease in adults may include:

  • Fatigue. 
  • Depression.
  • Seizures.
  • Bone loss. 
  • Anemia. 

4. Crohn’s Disease

This disease belongs to a group of conditions known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). While Crohn’s disease can affect any area of the GI tract, it commonly affects the terminal ileum — the area that connects the end of the small bowel and the beginning of the colon — resulting in chronic inflammation. 

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease may include:

  • Abdominal pain. 
  • Diarrhea.
  • Weight loss. 
  • Fever. 
  • Rectal bleeding. 
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5. Ulcerative Colitis

This disease also belongs to the group of conditions known as IBD. Ulcerative colitis typically affects the large intestine, commonly referred to as the colon. If you eat and your immune system mistakenly identifies the food as invaders, the immune system attacks. This results in ulcers or sores developing in the lining of the colon. 

Symptoms of ulcerative colitis may include:

  • Frequent and urgent bowel movements. 
  • Abdominal pain and/or cramps.
  • Diarrhea. 
  • Bloody stool. 

6. Gallstones

Your gallbladder stores bile and releases bile into the small intestine to help break down food. So, when there is too much waste or cholesterol in the bile, or if the gallbladder doesn’t empty properly, small, hard deposits known as gallstones can form. 

Symptoms of gallstones may include:

  • Severe pain in the upper right abdomen.
  • Infection. 
  • Nausea and/or vomiting. 
  • Fever. 

7. Diverticular disease (diverticulitis and diverticulosis)

Diverticulosis involves the formation of small pouches in the colon wall. Whereas diverticulitis is when these pouches become inflamed. 

Symptoms of diverticular disease may include:

  • Bloating. 
  • Gas.
  • Loose stools. 
  • Lower abdominal pain. 
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Constipation (severe in some cases).
  • Diarrhea.
  • Chills.
  • Bloody stool.
  • Fever. 

8. Peptic ulcer

This condition refers to an open sore in the stomach or upper small intestine lining. In rare cases, a peptic ulcer may develop in the esophagus, just above the stomach. Peptic ulcers usually develop due to infection with H. Pylori. However, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) use may also cause peptic ulcers.

Symptoms of peptic ulcer may include:

  • Nausea.
  • Stomach pain.

9. Hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids involve inflammation of the blood vessels at the end of your digestive tract. This inflammation can be caused by a variety of factors, such as:

  • Chronic constipation.
  • Straining with bowel movements.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Lack of dietary fiber. 

Symptoms of hemorrhoids may include:

  • Bloody stools. 
  • Blood on wiping after having a bowel movement. 
  • Anal itching. 
  • Anal irritation and/or pain.

Conclusion

If you’re experiencing digestive system disorder symptoms, they may be due to a variety of digestive disorders, some of which we’ve highlighted in this article. Therefore, while some digestive symptoms get better with home treatment, it’s important to speak to your family doctor. If you’re suffering with persistent or bothersome digestive symptoms, your doctor can rule out a serious underlying digestive disorder that requires appropriate diagnosis and treatment.