Overview – What is it?
Digestive disorders are diseases of the digestive tract. The digestive tract is made up of the oesophagus, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, stomach, small intestine and large intestine.
Different factors contribute to the cause of these digestive infections. Common causes include bacteria, virus and inflammation. Digestive disorders can range from mild to severe. Some of the conditions include:
- Gastro oesophageal reflux: This condition occurs when stomach acid leaks into the oesophagus causing symptoms such as heartburn and sore throat.
- Constipation: A condition that causes difficulty in emptying the bowel and is associated with hardened stools.
- Diarrhoea: A condition in which solid waste products are discharged from the body frequently and in liquid form.
- Stomach ulcers: These are open sores that develop in the lining of the stomach or the upper part of the small intestine.
- Colon cancer: This condition occurs when malignant cells grow in the large intestine.
Common signs and symptoms of these diseases include constipation, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting. Treatment for digestive disorders can include medication and surgery.
To prevent yourself from getting digestive disorders you can quit smoking or not start at all, eat healthy and exercise regularly, among other preventive measures.
Causes – What causes it?
Digestive disorders can be caused by different factors. Common causes include:
- Bacterial or viral infections: These occur when a person ingests contaminated foods or water. These infections manifest with symptoms such as acute diarrhoea. Bacteria that cause cholera and typhoid disorders include Vibrio cholera and salmonella typhi, respectively. Bacterial and parasitic infections of the digestive system can be treated with antibiotics.
- Poor diet: Fatty foods and sugary foods and foods that are low in fibre can lead to constipation and many other digestive disorders.
- Food allergies: Certain foods can cause allergic reactions, including the swelling of the lips, the mouth, and the back of the throat. They can also lead to nausea and vomiting, but this will take longer to develop. Abdominal pain can also be caused by food intolerance.
- Systemic auto-immune diseases and inflammation: Systemic auto immune diseases occur when the immune system attacks and harms the body’s own tissues and can occur in, or affect, any part of the body. An example of these diseases is lupus.
- Genetic causes: One can inherit the genes that make one prone to diseases such as colon cancer, diabetes type 1 and pancreatic cancer.
- Anatomical causes: These are structural abnormalities in the digestive system due to cancerous growths or ulcers in the stomach lining which can alter the normal functions of the digestive system.
- Lifestyle: Poor habits such as lack of exercise, smoking, and excessive drinking can lead to some digestive disorders. Changing these habits and living a healthy life can reduce the potential to acquire them.
- Medication side effects: Certain antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and certain diabetes medications have an effect on the digestive system. Some of the side effects may include nausea, diarrhoea, ulcers, constipation and many more.
- Post-operative effects: The anatomy of the digestive tract can be interfered with after a surgical operation. These changes may lead to problems such as acute diarrhoea after gall bladder surgery, or an obstruction of the bowel after surgery to remove a small section of the bowel.
Symptoms – What do you feel?
Different digestive disorders manifest in different ways but here are some of the common symptoms:
- Poor appetite
- Bloody or black stools
- Unexplained weight loss
- Discomfort and pain in the abdomen
- Instant satiety after eating a small portion of a meal
- Heartburn or indigestion
- Vomiting, with or without blood
- Excess gas and stomach bloat
- Change in bowel habits such as harder, looser, or more urgent stools than normal
If you are experiencing some of these symptoms, you should see a doctor as soon as possible because the symptoms may worsen.
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
Some of the methods used in the diagnosis of digestive disorders are:
- Colonoscopy: This is done using a colonoscope which is inserted into the rectum and colon to check for any abnormalities such as swollen tissue and ulcers.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy: A sigmoidoscope is used in this procedure to look inside the rectum and lower colon for any signs of digestive disorders such as polyps and any tumours that may be present.
- Lower GI series: In this procedure, the doctor uses x-ray and barium liquid to view the large intestine and determine the cause of anal bleeding, abdominal pain and other digestive disorder symptoms.
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): This is a non-invasive procedure used in diagnosing problems of the upper GI
Treatment – How is it treated?
Digestive disorders are treated in various ways depending on the type of condition. Some of the treatment options for these disorders include:
- Medication: This can be used to treat digestive disorders that are caused by bacteria and parasites. They can also be used to relieve symptoms such as pain and discomfort. Some medications that can be used for the treatment of digestive disorders include antibiotics and pain killers.
- Endoscopic treatment: This can be used to treat bleeding in the gastrointestinal system such as that caused by severe ulcers.
- Surgery: Some digestive disorders such as appendicitis may require surgery. It can also be used to repair structural problems like bile duct blockage.
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): It is a procedure used in treating upper GI problems by combining endoscopy and fluoroscopy.
- Diet and lifestyle: Digestive disorders that are not severe can be treated through diet and lifestyle changes such as avoiding foods like fatty foods and highly acidic foods, that cause stomach problems. You can also drink more water and exercise more regularly to relieve digestive problems.