During digestion, your body breaks down food into nutrients it can absorb and use as energy. However, when an error occurs in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract—the internal pathway that facilitates this process—the consequences can be extremely uncomfortable. Disorders in this region of your body can manifest in a number of ways, ranging from abdominal pain caused by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to chronic conditions associated with Crohn’s disease.
Gastrointestinal disorders are relatively common in the United States. For instance, it’s estimated that approximately 15 percent of Americans suffer from IBS, the most common disease diagnosed by gastroenterologists. Still, individuals can combat some of their most unpleasant symptoms with a proactive approach focusing on diet, exercise, medication, and pain management.
Gastrointestinal Disease Symptoms
When the digestive system suffers from gastrointestinal diseases, symptoms can include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach pain
- Weight gain or loss
- Difficulty swallowing
Based on the nature of the digestive tract, gastrointestinal disorders can range in their severity, from manageable discomfort to chronic illness.
Gastrointestinal Disease Types
There are many types of disorders and diseases that occur within the GI tract. Some of the most common and disruptive are:
Colon polyps and cancer. Colorectal cancer is the second most prevalent form of cancer in the United States. However, it’s also among the most curable. Symptoms are initially difficult to detect, but may ultimately manifest as blood in one’s stool, shifting bowel habits, abdominal pain, and excessive tiredness.
Colitis. Taking the form of infectious colitis, ulcerative colitis, ischemic colitis, radiation colitis, or Crohn’s disease, these types of GI tract disorders can cause rectal bleeding, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea.
Irritable bowel syndrome. When the colon muscle contracts more frequently than necessary, individuals may suffer from abdominal pain, excess gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. This is a collection of symptoms that may be caused by IBS, one of the most common gastrointestinal diseases in the country—and one of the most manageable, through changes in lifestyle and diet.
Diverticular disease. When diverticular disease causes small outpouchings to gather in the large intestine, areas of the bowel are weakened. This disorder is relatively common and does not generally cause symptoms.
Because the range of gastrointestinal disorders is so broad, it can be difficult to pinpoint exact causes that span them all. Additionally, the causes of some gastrointestinal diseases—such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis—remain unknown. However, potential causes have been identified for other conditions:
Tissue cell abnormalities. When polyps surrounding the colon are invaded by abnormal cells, they may become cancerous. If tissue is invaded by cancerous cells and is not removed, a patient may suffer from colon cancer.
Nervous system coordination. For gastrointestinal disorders such as IBS, some physicians speculate that errors in signal coordination between the brain and the digestive system may be a cause of the colon muscle’s overactive contractions.
Diet and allergens. The symptoms associated with some gastrointestinal disorders, such as celiac disease and IBS, can be triggered by the intake of certain foods, such as gluten and caffeine. While these dietary triggers do not necessarily cause the diseases themselves, the role they play in activating symptoms is notable.
Some gastrointestinal disorders can be treated with medication. But many individuals living with these conditions focus on limiting triggering foods and allergens, adjusting elements of their lifestyle, and managing pain on a daily basis.
Adjustments in the diet. The symptoms associated with gastrointestinal orders including diverticular disease, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, and many others may all be triggered by the intake of certain foods. For instance, allergens such as gluten, excessive caffeine, or insufficient levels of roughage fiber can each contribute to painful flare-ups for individuals living with various gastrointestinal conditions. Strategic nutritional changes can help a patient manage their discomfort and avoid symptoms.
Proactive screenings. Colorectal cancer, one gastrointestinal disease, is most effectively treated when caught early. However, because many of the symptoms do not manifest until the disease has progressed, it is imperative that patients schedule routine screenings to monitor for signs of abnormalities.
Proactive pain management. Cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound that comes from the cannabis plant. It’s non-psychoactive, meaning CBD doesn’t impair or interfere with the brain and is thought to help some individuals who experience physical pain.