The function of the digestive system is to take the food and liquids that we put into our mouths and then either turn them into nutrients and energy needed by the cells of our body, turning what the body doesn't absorb into waste products to be expelled by our body as bowel movements. Digestive system disorders happen when there is a faulty function during the process of digestion which prevents some part of the digestive system from working as it should do. There are many common digestive system disorders.
Colon and Rectal cancer is a malignant cell in large intestine, which consists of the colon and the rectum. Colon and rectal cancers share so many common features that they are referred to as the same cancer which is how the name colorectal cancer came about. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death by cancer in the U.S.A. If you have symptoms of colorectal cancer you should consult your doctor right away. Common symptoms include: a change in normal bowel habits, blood on or in the stool that is either bright or dark, unusual abdominal or gas pains, very narrow stool, a feeling that the bowel has not emptied completely after passing stool, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue.
Stomach cancer, or gastric cancer, affected approximately 21,700 Americans in their 60s and 70s in 2001. The risk factors for developing stomach cancer are increased by a diet that consists of eating large amounts of smoked foods, salted fish and meat, foods that are high in starch and low in fiber, pickled vegetables, and foods and beverages that contain nitrates and nitrites.
Diarrhea is watery stool, or an increased frequency in bowel movements, or both as compared to the normal amount of stool passed by the individual. Diarrhea can be short-term, which can be related to a bacterial or viral infection, or it can be long-term which is usually related to a functional disorder or intestinal disease.
Diverticulitis is an inflammation or infection which occurs in small pouches that bulge out in the colon. There is a tendency for these patches to catch and trap food particles, which can lead to infection.
Gas in your digestive tract is often caused by swallowing air or during the breakdown process of certain foods by the bacteria that is present in the colon. Everyone has gas, but if you have a gas problem it can be uncomfortable and certainly embarrassing to pass the gas.
Heartburn is what most of us get from time to time. Chronic, problematic heartburn is a digestive disorder called gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is caused by gastric acid that backs up from the stomach and into the esophagus, where it can burn sensitive tissue, and can lead to cancer.
There are several different diseases that fall under the category of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), all of which require a doctor for treatment. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are two of these diseases. Ulcerative colitis can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are similar to other intestinal disorders and to Crohn's disease. Crohn's disease differs because it causes inflammation deeper within the intestinal wall and can occur in other parts of the digestive system including the small intestine, mouth, esophagus, and stomach. Crohn's disease symptoms can be different for each person. The most common symptoms of Crohn's disease are abdominal pain and diarrhea. Some people have bleeding in the rectum, which is the lower end of the GI tract, just before the anus, which can be serious and may not stop without medical help. Bleeding can lead to anemia, the loss of too many red blood cells. Anemia makes a person feel tired. People can also have weight loss, skin problems, and fevers. Children with Crohn's disease may develop and grow slower than most other children or they may not reach their expected full height.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS, also called spastic colon, irritable colon, or nervous stomach) is a condition in which the colon muscle contracts more readily than in people without IBS. A number of factors can trigger IBS including certain foods, medicines, and emotional stress. Symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain and cramps, excess gas, bloating, and a change in bowel habits such as harder, looser, or more urgent stools than normal. Often people with IBS have alternating constipation and diarrhea. The primary causes for IBS include: eating a diet low in fiber, not drinking enough water or other fluids , not getting enough exercise, traveling or other changes in routine, eating large amounts of dairy products, being stressed, resisting the urge to have a bowel movement, overusing laxatives that, over time, weaken the bowel muscles, taking antacid medicines containing calcium or aluminum, taking certain medicines (especially antidepressants, iron pills, and narcotic pain medicines), and pregnancy.
Lactose intolerance is a condition caused by the lack of an enzyme called lactase, which is needed by the body to digest lactose (a sugar found in milk products). Adults and children can be affected by this intolerance. Digestive diseases or injuries to the small intestine can cause this intolerance. Individuals can experience different symptoms but the common ones are: cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and nausea. The symptoms will worsen when milk products are consumed.
Stomach ulcers, or gastric ulcers, and duodenal ulcers are open sores or lesions found in the mucous membranes of areas of the body. Lifestyle, stress and diet may have a role in ulcer formation; however they are not the main cause of them. Scientists now know that ulcers are caused by hydrochloric acid and pepsin that are contained in our stomach and duodenal parts of our digestive system and that these acids contribute to ulcer formation; many stomach ulcers are caused by the bacteria H. pylori, and can be cured with antibiotics.
Constipation is the difficult passage of stools or the infrequent (less than three times a week) or incomplete passage of stools. Constipation is usually caused by inadequate roughage, or fiber, in the diet, or a disruption of the regular routine or diet. Constipation causes a person to strain during a bowel movement. It sometimes causes anal problems such as fissures and hemorrhoids. The body needs two types of fiber: soluble fiber (dissolves and acts like a sponge) and insoluble (does not dissolve and acts like a wisk broom). We have recently recognized the need for a third kind of fiber, macrofiber; macrofiber is not only insoluble, it is indigestible, and it carries water through the digestive tract with your food. We used to get a lot of macrofiber 100 years ago; we called it chaff, and a little dirt from the garden, and bug parts....
Structural disorders are those in which the bowel looks abnormal and doesn't work properly. Sometimes, the structural abnormality needs to be removed surgically. The most common structural disorders are those affecting the anus, as well as Diverticulitis and cancer.
Hemorrhoids are swollen blood vessels that line the anal opening caused by excess pressure from straining during a bowel movement, persistent diarrhea, or pregnancy. There are two types of hemorrhoids: internal and external. Internal hemorrhoids are normal structures cushioning the lower rectum and protecting it from damage by stool. When they fall down into the anus as a result of straining, they become irritated and start to bleed. Ultimately, internal hemorrhoids can fall down enough to sink or protrude out of the anus. External hemorrhoids are veins that lie just under the skin on the outside of the anus. Sometimes, after straining, the external hemorrhoidal veins burst and a blood clot forms under the skin. This very painful condition is called a pile.
Anal fissures are splits or cracks in the lining of the anal opening. The most common cause of an anal fissure is the passage of very hard or watery stools. The crack in the anal lining exposes the underlying muscles that control the passage of stool through the anus and out of the body. An anal fissure is one of the most painful problems because the exposed muscles become irritated from exposure to stool or air, and leads to intense burning pain, bleeding, or spasm after bowel movements.
Colitis is a condition that causes an inflammation of the bowel. There are several types, including infectious colitis (caused by bacteria), ischemic colitis (caused by not enough blood going to the colon), radiation colitis (after radiotherapy), ulcerative colitis (cause not known), and Crohn's disease (cause not known). Colitis causes diarrhea, rectal bleeding, abdominal cramps, and urgency (frequent and immediate need to empty the bowels).
Celiac disease is a condition of intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, and in some medicines. In people with celiac disease, the body's immune system reacts to gluten by attacking and damaging the lining of the small intestine. Eating foods containing gluten can produce severe abdominal pain. When the lining is damaged, the body cannot get the nutrients it needs. Over time, celiac disease can cause anemia, infertility, weak and brittle bones, and other health problems. Celiac disease tends to run in families.
Rapid gastric emptying, or dumping syndrome, occurs when undigested food empties too quickly into the small intestine. Early rapid gastric emptying begins either during or right after a meal. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, bloating, cramping, diarrhea, dizziness, and fatigue. Late rapid gastric emptying occurs 1 to 3 hours after eating. Symptoms include hypoglycemia, also called low blood sugar; weakness; sweating; and dizziness. Experiencing both forms of gastric emptying is not uncommon.
Smoking can harm all parts of the digestive system, contributing to such common disorders as heartburn and peptic ulcers. Smoking increases the risk of Crohn's disease, and possibly gallstones, which form when liquid stored in the gallbladder hardens into pieces of stone-like material. Smoking also damages the liver.
Many diseases of the colon and rectum can be prevented or minimized by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and practicing good eating, exercise, and bowel habits:
Eat to live, rather than living to eat. Choose foods that will nourish your body, the fresher the better; keep prepackaged foods and snacks down to a minimum; there are healthy snacks!
When you eat, stop, sit, relax, slow down, and chew well. Try not to overeat; many small eatings are much better for our digestive system than three large ones, especially if you also snack.
To get the most out of the foods you eat, it is best to avoid drinking lots of liquids 20-30 minutes before and after your meals. Drinking too much liquid with meals dilutes the concentration of hydrochloric acid and enzymes needed for proper digestion.
Find your best time of day to have a bowel movement, usually a half hour to an hour after breakfast or after lunch.
Eat all of your meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) at a predictable time each day. The bowel functions best when food is introduced at the same regular intervals.
Eat a high fiber diet.
Drink plenty of fluids, ideally 64 ounces a day or 8 glasses of water. Keep caffeine to a minimum; it is a diuretic which draws fluid from your colon and leaving your stools hard.
Exercise daily. Bowel function is helped most when exercise is at a consistent daily time.
It is generally accepted that you should take only a minute or so to empty your bowel. Never strain or hold your breath. Hemorrhoids can result from straining.
Avoid relying on laxatives and use them only when needed - ask your doctor or continence adviser for help.
Regular exercise, drinking plenty of water and eating plenty of fresh high fiber foods should keep your bowel healthy. Believe it or not, try chicken soup; it is not just a Jewish myth. Half a cup or so of chicken broth sipped with meals is a great digestive aid.
Disclaimer: The above article is educational in nature, and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have a medical condition, please consult your physician.