Conditions of the Digestive System

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This list a short description and list of common problems with the digestive system. There are more and more comprehensive findings out there for each one. This article is meant to be a basic research start in your quest.

Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is an inflammatory condition that affects the small intestines. If left untreated it can damage the lining of the small intestines. Nutrients cannot be absorbed properly if the lining gets damaged. The inflammation (and subsequent damage) occurs in a reaction to gluten.

Those with family members with Celiac are at an increased risk of developing it themselves. People with Celiac disease are also more likely to develop or already have other autoimmune disorders such as lupus, Type 1 diabetes. They are also likely to have lactose intolerance.

Symptoms vary from person to person, some include diarrhea while others might have constipation.  Abdominal pain, bloating, gas, unexplained weight loss, and stools that are off in composition (too oily, sticky, etc). Other symptoms might be related to problems with malabsorption from the damage of the lining.

The only treatment for Celiac is to avoid gluten altogether. Blood work and a series of other follow-up tests will be done to diagnose Celiac.

Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory disease of the GI tract, specifically the lower small bowel (the ileum) and the colon. However, it can happen anywhere in the GI tract. The disease can affect the entire bowel wall, and can be only in patches of the wall. It may not be consistently affecting one area. It is part of a group of diseases known as IBD (inflammatory bowel disease).

Symptoms include persistent diarrhea, rectal bleeding, cramping and abdominal pain, constipation, or an urgent need or feeling to evacuate the bowels. Other symptoms include fever, weight loss, night sweats, fatigue. The disease is chronic so there will be flares, and then better times with fewer symptoms.

If left untreated, small tears in the lining of the anus might occur – called fissures. Inflammation may cause a fistula to develop. This is a pathway that leads from the bowels to another section or another body part altogether. It is a serious condition and needs immediate medical attention.

Crohn’s appear to be genetic and run in families. It may also be impacted by environmental factors. Crohn’s is diagnosed through a thorough history and symptoms. There isn’t one blood test or test that identifies Crohn’s. It’s especially important to keep track of the symptoms to be sure you are sharing everything with your doctor. Colonoscopy, endoscopy, and biopsies might be performed to help with a diagnosis.

Crohn’s is treated with different medications, as well as diet alterations and healthy living. Medications for Crohn’s are aimed at suppressing the immune system to prevent inflammation. Even with proper treatment is it possible a Crohn’s patient will need surgery to remove a damaged section of the bowel.

Ulcerative Colitis
Ulcerative colitis is where the lining of the large intestine, the colon, becomes inflamed and develops open sores. They can produce pus and mucus. This can cause frequent emptying of the colon and pain. This process is a response to an autoimmunity to the cells in the colon. The immune system mistakes other things in the intestines as foreign and attacks. It could be food, bacteria or other particles. Ulcerative colitis only affects the colon – no other part of the digestive tract.

Symptoms include frequent more urgent bowel movements, blood in the stool, abdominal cramping and persistent diarrhea. There is no known cause, but suspects include infections that trigger an immune response coupled with autoimmunity.

History and differential diagnosis of other conditions help diagnosis ulcerative colitis. A biopsy or a colonoscopy can also help in diagnosis. Cancerous conditions will also need to be ruled out.

There is no cure for colitis. The goal is to control the immune system to get the disease under control. There will be flares in the disease at times due to its autoimmune nature. Therapies related to decreasing the immune response are forms of treatment. Diet and nutrition can also help control the disease.

Hirschsprung’s Disease
This is a rare condition that children are born with. It causes the ganglion in the colon or rectum that move the food through to be missing or non-functioning. Without this movement, the intestines can become obstructed.

This is usually diagnosed within a few days at birth but sometimes can develop in slightly older children. Symptoms in newborns include an inability to pass a bowel movement, distended belly, and pain. Older children symptoms can include watery stool, diarrhea and lack of appetite.

Diagnosis is made through barium x-rays and biopsies. Surgery is the treatment for Hirschsprung’s. The affected section of the intestines is removed and it’s reattached to the healthy section again. This is effective in most cases, however, in 10-20% of cases, there are continued complications.

Eosinophilic Gastroenteritis
This is another rare disorder that reacts much like a food allergy, however, there is not a food identified with this particular disorder. It only reacts to prednisone – which food allergies do not. The intestines are infiltrated by eosinophils (white blood cells) and they are also reabsorbed in too high levels back into the bloodstream. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramping. Biopsy and blood work can confirm this diagnosis. This can occur in the colon or the esophagus (both are classified under this broader topic). It is treated with steroids to calm the reaction.

Other common disorders include food allergies, IBD and more. For more information about childhood digestive issues check out this site.

In Older Children or Adults

Diverticulitis is the swelling and inflammation of diverticula in the intestines (specifically the colon). Diverticula are small bulging pouches in the colon that develop in some people (usually after the age of 40).

The diverticula can also cause an infection that needs immediate treatment as it can become serious and lead to death or loss of sections of the colon. It can cause nausea, vomiting, marked bowel movements and severe abdominal pain and fever.

It is usually diagnosed during an inflammatory attack. It is treated with antibiotics and over the counter pain medications. Repeated attacks may require surgery.

This is also known as acid reflux. This is a chronic disease where stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus causing pain, lesions, and sores in the esophagus. Some people experience occasional acid reflux, but more than twice a week every week leads doctors to provide a diagnosis of GERD. A persistent acid reflux problem that won’t go away.

Symptoms are burning and chest pain, feelings of regurgitated liquids, a lump in the throat and hoarse voice. Medications are prescribed to help neutralize the acid, prevent additional acid from being produced and medication to heal sores that have occurred in the esophagus from GERD.

Want to learn more about the digestive system, its components or treatments and physicians. Here are some simple and complex online sources. Depending on your comfort level of medical language you can check out each one.