5. Digestive System

What are some common conditions that affect the digestive system?

There are temporary conditions and long-term, or chronic, diseases and disorders that affect the digestive system. It’s common to have conditions such as constipation, diarrhea or heartburn from time to time. If you are experiencing digestive issues like these frequently, be sure to contact your healthcare professional. It could be a sign of a more serious disorder that needs medical attention and treatment.

Short-term or temporary conditions that affect the digestive system include:

  • Constipation: Constipation generally happens when you go poop (have a bowel movement) less frequently than you normally do. When you’re constipated, your poop is often dry and hard and it’s difficult and painful for your poop to pass.
  • Diarrhea: Diarrhea is when you have loose or watery poop. Diarrhea can be caused by many things, including bacteria, but sometimes the cause is unknown.
  • Heartburn: Although it has “heart” in its name, heartburn is actually a digestive issue. Heartburn is an uncomfortable burning feeling in your chest that can move up your neck and throat. It happens when acidic digestive juices from your stomach go back up your esophagus.
  • Hemorrhoids: Hemorrhoids are swollen, enlarged veins that form inside and outside of your anus and rectum. They can be painful, uncomfortable and cause rectal bleeding.
  • Stomach flu (gastroenteritis): The stomach flu is an infection of the stomach and upper part of the small intestine usually caused by a virus. It usually lasts less than a week. Millions of people get the stomach flu every year.
  • Ulcers: An ulcer is a sore that develops on the lining of the esophagus, stomach or small intestine. The most common causes of ulcers are infection with a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) and long-term use of anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen.
  • Gallstones: Gallstones are small pieces of solid material formed from digestive fluid that form in your gallbladder, a small organ under your liver.

Common digestive system diseases (gastrointestinal diseases) and disorders include:

  • GERD (chronic acid reflux): GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or chronic acid reflux) is a condition in which acid-containing contents in your stomach frequently leak back up into your esophagus.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): IBS is a condition in which your colon muscle contracts more or less often than normal. People with IBS experience excessive gas, abdominal pain and cramps.
  • Lactose intolerance: People with lactose intolerance are unable to digest lactose, the sugar primarily found in milk and dairy products.
  • Diverticulosis and diverticulitis: Diverticulosis and diverticulitis are two conditions that occur in your large intestine (also called your colon). Both share the common feature of diverticula, which are pockets or bulges that form in the wall of your colon.
  • Cancer: Cancers that affect tissues and organs in the digestive system are called gastrointestinal (GI) cancers. There are multiple kinds of GI cancers. The most common digestive system cancers include esophageal cancer, gastric (stomach) cancer, colon and rectal (colorectal) cancer, pancreatic cancer and liver cancer.
  • Crohn’s disease: Crohn’s disease is a lifelong form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The condition irritates the digestive tract.
  • Celiac disease: Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that can damage your small intestine. The damage happens when a person with celiac disease consumes gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.

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