GERD, diarrhea and colorectal cancer are examples of gastrointestinal diseases. When examined, some diseases show nothing wrong with the GI tract, but still cause symptoms. Other diseases cause symptoms, and irregularities in the GI tract also appear. Most gastrointestinal diseases can be prevented and/or treated.
What are Gastrointestinal Diseases?
Gastrointestinal diseases affect the gastrointestinal (GI) tract from the mouth to the anus. There are two types: functional and structural. Some examples include nausea/vomiting, food poisoning, lactose intolerance and diarrhea.
What are functional gastrointestinal diseases?
Gastrointestinal diseases are those in which the GI tract appears normal on examination, but does not move properly. They are the most common problems affecting the GI tract (including the colon and rectum). Common examples are constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), nausea, food poisoning, gas, bloating, GERD and diarrhea.
Many factors can disturb your GI tract and its mobility (ability to move), including:
- Eating a low fiber diet.
- Not getting enough exercise.
- Travel or other changes in routine.
- Consumption of dairy products in large quantities.
- the stress.
- Resisting the urge to have a bowel movement, possibly due to hemorrhoids.
- Overuse of anti-diarrheal drugs that, over time, weaken the muscle movements of bowel movements, called motility.
- Taking antacid medicines containing calcium or aluminum.
- Taking certain medicines (especially narcotics such as antidepressants, iron pills, and strong pain medicines).
What Are Structural Gastrointestinal Diseases?
Structural gastrointestinal diseases are those where your bowel looks abnormal on examination and does not function properly. Sometimes, the structural abnormality needs to be removed surgically. Common examples of structural GI diseases include strictures, stenosis, hemorrhoids, diverticular disease, colon polyps, colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.
Constipation, which is a functional problem, makes it difficult for you to have a bowel movement (or have a bowel movement), have infrequent stools (less than three times a week), or incomplete. Constipation is usually caused by insufficient “roughage” or fiber in your diet, or due to a disruption in your regular routine or diet.
Constipation causes you to strain during bowel movements. This can cause small, hard stools and sometimes anal problems such as fissures and hemorrhoids. Constipation is rarely a sign that you have a more serious medical condition.
You can treat your constipation in the following ways:
- Increase the amount of fiber and water in your diet.
- Exercising regularly and increasing the intensity of your exercise as tolerated.
- Moving your bowels when you have an urge (resisting the urge causes constipation).
- If these treatment methods do not work, laxatives may be added. Note that you should make sure that you are up to date with your colon cancer screening. Always follow the directions on the laxative medicine, as well as the advice of your healthcare provider.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome (also called spastic colon, irritable colon, IBS, or nervous system) is a functional condition where your colon muscle contracts more or less frequently than “normal.” Certain foods, medications, and emotional stress are some of the factors that can trigger IBS.
Symptoms of IBS include:
- Abdominal pain and cramps.
- excess gas.
- Changes in bowel habits such as harder, looser or more frequent stools than usual.
- Constipation and diarrhea alternating.
- Avoiding excessive caffeine.
- Increasing fiber in your diet.
- Monitoring which foods trigger your IBS (and avoiding these foods).
- To reduce stress or learn different ways to deal with stress.
- Take the medicines prescribed by your healthcare provider.
- Avoiding dehydration, and hydrating well throughout the day.
- Getting high quality rest/sleep.
Hemorrhoids are dilated veins in the anal canal, structural disease. They are swollen blood vessels that line your anus. They are caused by chronic excess pressure from bowel movements, frequent diarrhea, or stress during pregnancy. There are two types of hemorrhoids: internal and external.
Internal hemorrhoids are the blood vessels inside your anal opening. When they fall into the anus as a result of stress, they become irritated and bleed. Eventually, internal hemorrhoids may protrude down enough to protrude (sink or stick) out of the anus.
- Improving bowel habits (such as avoiding constipation, not straining during a bowel movement, and moving your bowels when you have an urge).
- Your healthcare provider uses a ligating band to terminate the vessels.
- Your healthcare provider is having them surgically removed. A small number of people with very large, painful and persistent hemorrhoids require surgery.
External hemorrhoids are veins that lie just under the skin outside the anus. Sometimes, after stress, external hemorrhoidal veins burst and blood clots form under the skin. This very painful condition is called a “pile”.
Treatment involves removal of the clot and vein under local anesthesia and/or removal of the hemorrhoid itself.
Anal fissure is also a structural disease. They are cracks or cracks in the lining of your anus. The most common cause of anal fissure is very hard or watery stools. A crack in the anal lining exposes the underlying muscles that control the passage of stool through the anus and out of the body. Anal fissures are one of the most painful problems because exposed muscles become irritated from exposure to stool or air, and there is intense burning pain, bleeding or cramping after a bowel movement.
Initial treatment for anal fissures includes pain medication, dietary fiber to reduce the occurrence of large, heavy stools and sitz baths (sitting in a few inches of warm water). If these treatments do not relieve your pain, surgery may be needed to repair the sphincter muscle.
Perianal abscesses, a structural disease, can also occur when the small anal glands that open inside your anus become blocked, and the bacteria in these glands always cause an infection. When pus develops, an abscess forms. Treatment involves draining the abscess, usually under local anesthesia in a healthcare provider’s office.
An anal fistula — again, an anatomical disease — often occurs after an abscess has been drained and an abnormal tube-like passageway from the anal canal to a hole in the skin near the opening of your anus. Body waste that travels through your anal canal is forced out through this small channel and through the skin, causing itching and burning. Fistula also causes drainage, pain and bleeding. They rarely heal on their own and usually require surgery to drain the abscess and “close” the fistula.
Other Perianal Infections
Sometimes the skin glands near your anus become infected and need to be removed, as in this structural disease. Just behind the anus, abscesses can form in which there is a small clump of hair in the back of the pelvis (called a pilonidal cyst).
Sexually transmitted diseases that can affect the anus include anal warts, herpes, AIDS, chlamydia, and gonorrhea.
Structural disease diverticulosis is the presence of small outpouchings (diverticula) in the muscular wall of your large intestine that form in weakened areas of the bowel. They usually occur in the sigmoid colon, the high-pressure area of the lower large intestine.
Diverticular disease is very common and occurs in 10% of people over the age of 40 and 50% of people over the age of 60 in Western cultures. This is often due to too little roughage (fiber) in the diet. Diverticulosis can sometimes develop/progress into diverticulitis
Complications of diverticular disease occur in about 10% of people with outpouching. They include infection or inflammation (diverticulitis), bleeding and blockage. Treatment of diverticulitis includes treating constipation and sometimes antibiotics if really severe. Surgery is needed as a last resort in people who have significant complications to remove the diseased section of the colon involved.
Colon Polyps and Cancer
Each year, 635,000 Indians are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, the second most common form of cancer in the United States. Fortunately, with advances in early detection and treatment, colorectal cancer is one of the most treatable forms of the disease. By using a variety of screening tests, it is possible to prevent, detect, and treat disease long before symptoms appear.
Importance of Screening
Almost all colorectal cancers begin as polyps, benign (non-cancerous) growths in the tissues of your colon and rectum. Cancer develops when these polyps grow and abnormal cells develop and begin to invade the surrounding tissue. Removal of polyps can prevent the development of colorectal cancer. Almost all precancerous polyps can be removed painlessly using a flexible lighted tube called a colonoscope. If not caught in the early stages, colorectal cancer can spread throughout the body. More advanced cancers require more complex surgical techniques.
Most early forms of colorectal cancer do not cause symptoms, which makes screening especially important. When symptoms do occur, the cancer may already be quite advanced. Symptoms include blood or mixed stools, changes in normal bowel habits, compacted stools, abdominal pain, weight loss, or persistent tiredness.
Most cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed in one of four ways:
- By screening people at average risk of colorectal cancer starting at age 45.
- By screening people at high risk for colorectal cancer (for example, those with a family history or personal history of colon polyps or cancer).
- By examining the bowel in symptomatic patients.
- Chance to meet at routine check-up.
- Early detection is the best chance for treatment.
There are several types of colitis, which are conditions that cause inflammation of the bowel. This includes:
- Infectious colitis.
- Ulcerative colitis (cause unknown).
- Crohn’s disease (cause unknown).
- Ischemic colitis (due to insufficient blood flow to the colon).
- Radiation colitis (after radiotherapy).
- Colitis causes diarrhea, rectal bleeding, abdominal cramps and urgency (a frequent and urgent need to empty the bowels). Treatment depends on the diagnosis, which is made by colonoscopy and biopsy.
Can gastrointestinal diseases be prevented?
Many diseases of the colon and rectum can be prevented or reduced by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, practicing good bowel habits, and getting screened for cancer.
A colonoscopy is recommended for patients at average risk at age 45. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, a colonoscopy may be recommended at an early age. Typically, colonoscopies 10 years younger than the affected family member are recommended. (For example, if your brother was diagnosed with colorectal cancer or polyps at age 45, you should start screening at age 35.)
If you have symptoms of colorectal cancer you should consult your healthcare provider immediately. Common symptoms include:
- Changes in normal bowel habits.
- Blood on the stool or in the stool that is either bright or dark.
- Unusual abdominal or gas pain.
- Very narrow stool.
- Feeling that the bowel has not completely emptied even after having a bowel movement.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Anemia (low blood count).
- Other types of gastrointestinal diseases
There are many other diseases of the stomach. Some have been discussed, but others are not covered here. Other functional and structural diseases include peptic ulcer disease, gastritis, gastroenteritis, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, gallstones, fecal incontinence, lactose intolerance, Hirschsprung’s disease, abdominal adhesions, Barrett’s esophagus, appendicitis, dyspepsia (dyspepsia), intestinal perforation. -Includes obstruction, pancreatitis. , short bowel syndrome, Whipple disease, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, malabsorption syndrome and hepatitis.