Before understanding the type of diseases that originates in the digestive system it would be better to know about the digestive system. Digestive system is one that includes series of organs that are involved in converting food into nutrients which in turn is absorbed into the body via bloodstream. The same system is also responsible for eliminating the unused food from the body. Human digestive system is medically called as gastrointestinal tract and any problem, diseases or disorder in these organs are to be consulted with gastroenterologist. Digestive system includes mouth or oral cavity, esophagus (long tube that connects throat with stomach), stomach, intestine (small and large intestine) and rectum/anus. The entire digestive system roughly measures 9m in adults.
Where Digestion Begins?
We eat/drink through mouth and digestion actually begins here. It is the saliva that separates starch molecules from the food. Saliva contains salivary amylase an important enzyme that facilitates breaking down of starch. Teeth is a vital organ that helps in chewing the food thus breaking it down into small pieces. The food particles are then sent into the stomach via esophagus. Here the particles get converted into a round mass which is then emptied into the stomach.
How Digestion Take Place?
In the stomach major part of digestion process begins. Several gastric juices are secreted in the stomach to break down food into proteins and other nutrients. The food stays in the stomach for about 1-2 hours which finally leaves the stomach in the form of semi liquid known as chyme which then enters the small intestine. At this point various enzymes secreted from the pancreas and gall bladder come into action in the duodenum. The pyloric sphincter valve opens and closes involuntarily once the chyme gets ready to be emptied into the duodenum.
- Absorption :
Next the particles enter into the small intestine which is the place where the absorption of nutrients into body occurs. The essential nutrients are sent to the liver for further absorption. In the liver nutrients are further separated into sugars and carbohydrates and assumes a new form of protein which can be transported into the blood. Unwanted food particles and toxic chemicals are filtered in the liver and sent into the large intestine.
- Elimination :
The leftover paste then reaches the large intestine where majority of waste particles are stored. Water from the paste is absorbed into the body here and other waste products are stored until it is eliminated in the form of feces through the rectum.
Problems and diseases can occur in many forms in the gastrointestinal tract. It may range from common issues like constipation or bloating with heartburn, or serious problems like blood in stool, colon cancer or difficulty in swallowing. Diseases that occur in the digestive system is discussed in detail in separate section. Hence let us see what are the causes and symptoms of various diseases and the available treatment.
Causes Of Digestive System Diseases :
The functions of digestive system depend on what we eat. Diet plays in important role in deciding the disorders or other problems in the digestive tract. By restricting or eliminating certain foods many of the diseases that may occur in the digestive system can be prevented.
- Diet :
Any hot and spicy food can create an impact on the process of digestion. Soft mucous membrane of the stomach can get irritated when it comes in contact with acidic items and hot spicy foods. Eating food in untimely manner and going to bed with heavy stomach can affect the process of digestion. It is wise to finish eating at least 3 hours before going to bed. And most of the problems related to acidity and heartburn can be controlled by eating little food frequently.
Eating too much of junk foods and fried items can spoil the natural balance of the stomach interfering with digestion. This in turn will lead to buildup of fat contributing to weight gain. Similarly eating excess of acidic foods can affect the digestion. Alcohol intake and smoking can directly interfere with the functions of gastrointestinal tract causing complications in the long run.
- Lack Of Exercise :
Leading sedentary life and sitting for extended hours without any physical activity can lead to many digestive diseases. Due to lack of time it has become common for many people to skip exercising. For many others work atmosphere forces one to sit before computer or laptop for hours together. It is necessary to do minimal exercises daily to keep your stomach and other organs in good condition. Don’t do any aerobics or other exercises shortly after eating good. This can cause heartburn, acidity and other disorders in GI tract. Certain types of yoga poses can force the acidic enzymes from the stomach into the throat causing heartburn.
- Medications :
Certain drugs can affect the soft lining of the stomach and intestine causing ulcers. Painkillers like ibuprofen, aspirin can damage the soft irritate the soft lining. And medications given for managing blood pressure can affect the way of digestion. This includes alpha blockers, beta blockers and calcium channel blockers. Some medications given for heart problems can affect the functions of digestion leading to constipation/diarrhea. Strong antibiotics can cause irritation on the stomach causing gastric problems.
- Unknown Causes :
Many diseases like Crohn’s disease, Irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis have idiopathic (unknown) causes. Diverticulitis can cause severe abdominal cramps and constipation. Many men are likely to develop chronic constipation after 45 or 50 years. Similarly getting hemorrhoids and piles has become common in many adults for no reasons.
- Change in stool habits is the first sign to indicate that something is wrong in your GI tract.
- Some people may develop constipation or diarrhea due to digestive system disorders.
- Stomach cramps ranging from mild to intense is another symptom of GI disease.
- Heartburn is another common problem of GERD (Gastro Esophageal Reflex Disease). It occurs when the acid from the stomach is forced upwards into the esophagus causing chest pain.
- Burning pain in the chest region, difficulty in swallowing or eating anything, pain in the rectal region, irritation of rectum and passing blood in stool are some other symptoms of digestive system disorders. Rectal bleeding can be more serious and need to be consulted with physician.
Your GP will complete physical examination and listen to your symptoms. Colonoscopy is the basic test to inspect organs in the colon. A long flexible thin tube is sent through the anus (rectum) along with lighted instrument through which the inner organs of colon can be studied to detect presence of polyps or tumors inside. GI endoscopy, endoscopic cholangiopancreatography is some other testing procedure to detect problems in GI tract.
- Treatment method varies according to the cause of the problem.
- For constipation including plenty of fiber and drinking plenty of liquids can help in improving the symptoms. In addition, your doctor may prescribe laxative drugs depending on the case.
- Changing eating habits can help a lot in overcoming many of the problems related to digestive system.
- Instead of taking large/big meals you can take small frequent meals daily. Avoid taking acidic foods like citrus fruits and red wine etc. Restrict the intake of onions, tomatoes, chocolates and caffeinated drinks.
- Go to bed only after 3 hours of eating. Do not lie down immediately after eating.
- Avoid stress by joining yoga class or meditation therapy.
- Do regular exercises and eat health foods.
- If medications are the root cause of your problem your doctor may provide suitable alternative drugs to control the symptoms.
- Corticosteroids, antibiotics, aminosalicylate drugs and immunosuppressive agents are prescribed by your gastroenterologist to control the symptoms. It can effectively reduce the inflammation of the tissues leading to bowel movement thus facilitating healing.
- Sulfasalazine drugs can be given for ulcerative colitis.
- Bulking agents, osmotic laxatives, purgatives and stimulants are largely used for treating constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.
- Maintaining gluten-free diet can help in overcoming the symptoms of celiac disease. You will be given supplements in the form of vitamins and minerals.
Surgical option is available for certain diseases like piles (hemorrhoids) when non-surgical options are not effective for patients.
Overall many of the problems and diseases of the digestive system can be managed and controlled by following specific diet regimen and including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in daily diet. Doing exercises can help in overcoming constipation and it can strengthen your pelvic muscles. Reduce stress by practicing yoga/meditation.