Digestive diseases are disorders of the digestive tract, which is sometimes called the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
In digestion, food and drink are broken down into small parts (called nutrients) that the body can absorb and use as energy and building blocks for cells.
The digestive tract is made up of the esophagus (food tube), stomach, large and small intestines, liver, pancreas, and the gallbladder.
The first sign of problems in the digestive tract often includes one or more of the following symptoms:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain in the belly
- Swallowing problems
- Weight gain or loss
Unintentional weight gain is when you gain weight without trying to do so and you are not eating or drinking more.
A digestive disease is any health problem that occurs in the digestive tract. Conditions may range from mild to serious. Some common problems include cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, and lactose intolerance.
Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. Cancerous cells are also called malignant cells.
Irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder that leads to abdominal pain and bowel changes. IBS is not the same as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)...
Lactose is a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products. An enzyme called lactase is needed by the body to digest lactose. Lactose intoler...
Other digestive diseases include:
- Gallstones, cholecystitis, and cholangitis
Gallstones are hard deposits that form inside the gallbladder. Gallstones may be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball.
Chronic cholecystitis is swelling and irritation of the gallbladder that continues over time. The gallbladder is a sac located under the liver. It s...
- Rectal problems, such as anal fissure, hemorrhoids, proctitis, and rectal prolapse
An anal fissure is a small split or tear in the thin moist tissue (mucosa) lining the lower rectum (anus).
Hemorrhoids are swollen veins in the anus or lower part of the rectum.
Proctitis is an inflammation of the rectum. It can cause discomfort, bleeding, and the discharge of mucus or pus.
- Esophagus problems, such as stricture (narrowing) and achalasia
Benign esophageal stricture is a narrowing of the esophagus (the tube from the mouth to the stomach). It causes swallowing difficulties. Benign mean...
- Liver problems, such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C, cirrhosis, liver failure, and autoimmune and alcoholic hepatitis
Hepatitis B is irritation and swelling (inflammation) of the liver due to infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Other types of viral hepatitis ...
Hepatitis C is a viral disease that leads to swelling (inflammation) of the liver. Other types of viral hepatitis include:Hepatitis AHepatitis BHepat...
Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver and poor liver function. It is the last stage of chronic liver disease.
- Pancreatitis and pancreatic pseudocyst
- Intestinal problems, such as polyps and cancer, infections, celiac disease, Crohn disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, malabsorption, short bowel syndrome, and intestinal ischemia
Celiac disease is a condition caused by damage to the lining of the small intestine. This damage comes from a reaction to eating gluten. This is a ...
Crohn disease is a disease where parts of the digestive tract become inflamed. It most often involves the lower end of the small intestine and the be...
Ulcerative colitis is a condition in which the lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum become inflamed. It is a form of inflammatory bowel ...
Diverticula are small, bulging sacs or pouches that form on the inner wall of the intestine. Diverticulitis occurs when these pouches become inflame...
Malabsorption involves problems with the body's ability to take in nutrients from food.
Short bowel syndrome
Short bowel syndrome is a problem that occurs when part of the small intestine is missing or has been removed during surgery. Nutrients are not prop...
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcer disease, and hiatal hernia
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which the stomach contents leak backwards from the stomach into the esophagus (the tube from...
A peptic ulcer is an open sore or raw area in the lining of the stomach or intestine. A gastric ulcer occurs in the stomach. A duodenal ulcer occurs ...
A colonoscopy is an exam that views the inside of the colon (large intestine) and rectum, using a tool called a colonoscope. The colonoscope has a sm...
Endoscopy is a way of looking inside the body using a flexible tube that has a small camera and light on the end of it. This instrument is called an...
Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to make images of organs and structures inside the body.
Many surgical procedures are performed on the digestive tract. These include procedures done using endoscopy, laparoscopy, and open surgery. Organ transplants can be performed on the liver, pancreas, and small intestine.
Many health care providers can help diagnose and treat digestive problems. A gastroenterologist is a physician specialist who has received extra training in the diagnosis and treatment of the digestive disorders. Other health care providers involved in the treatment of digestive diseases include:
- Nurse practitioners (NPs) or physician assistants (PAs)
A nurse practitioner (NP) is a nurse with a graduate degree in advanced practice nursing. This type of provider may also be referred to as an ARNP (...
- Nutritionists or dietitians
- Primary care doctors
Bkope ET, Kellerman RD. The digestive system. In: Bope ET, ed. Conn's Current Therapy 2016. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 8.
Mayer EA. Functional gastrointestinal disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 137.
Normal abdominal anatomy - illustration
The abdomen is the area of the body between the diaphragm and pelvis. Most of the organs of digestion are located in the abdomen.
Normal abdominal anatomy
Review Date: 10/27/2015
Reviewed By: Subodh K. Lal, MD, gastroenterologist with Gastrointestinal Specialists of Georgia, Austell, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.