What Are 13 Common Diseases of the Digestive System?

Medically Reviewed on 1/21/2022

13 common diseases of the digestive system

13 common diseases of the digestive system
Here are 13 of the most common diseases of the digestive system, which range from constipation to gastrointestinal (GI) cancer.

Thirteen common diseases of the digestive system include:

  1. Constipation: In the United States, approximately 63 million people have chronic constipation.
    • Three common symptoms of constipation include:
      • Excessive straining during bowel movements
      • Passage of hard stools
      • Decreased bowel movements
    • Constipation is most commonly caused by waste (stool) that forms after food digestion moves too slowly (slow transit) through the digestive tract. Dehydration, changes in diet and activity, and certain medications are common causes of slow stool transit.
    • Four treatment options for constipation include:
      • Increased fluid and fiber consumption
      • Laxatives and stool softeners
      • Enema: If these do not work, the doctor may have to manually remove stools with a gloved finger. They may ask the individual to drink a solution that contains dissolved salts and polyethylene glycol, which cleanses the digestive tract.
  2. Gastroenteritis or stomach flu: Inflammation of the stomach and intestines is known as gastroenteritis.
    • Five common symptoms of gastroenteritis include:
    • The most common cause of gastroenteritis is viruses. Because there are many types of viruses, gastroenteritis can occur more than once. Moreover, gastroenteritis can be caused by bacteria, parasites, drugs, and food poisoning.
    • Four treatment options of gastroenteritis include:
      • The majority of gastroenteritis infections resolve on their own. To avoid dehydration, it is critical to drink plenty of fluids.
      • Typically, doctors prescribe medications to control vomiting and diarrhea.
      • If stomach flu is caused by bacteria or parasites, antibiotics are required.
      • If a person is severely dehydrated, they may require intravenous fluids.
  3. Acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Acid reflux and GERD are two conditions that occur when digestive juices and acids in the stomach flow up into the esophagus. Acid reflux is common and affects approximately 60 million Americans.
    • Acid reflux is known as GERD if it occurs two times a week or more. GERD affects approximately 20 percent of adults.
    • Eight symptoms of GERD include:
    • If left untreated, GERD can lead to damage to the esophagus or cancer. Lifestyle modification such as a healthy diet and weight management may help manage GERD.
    • Three treatment options for GERD include:
  4. Gallstones: Stones form when cholesterol deposits harden in the gallbladder, an organ that stores and concentrates bile to aid in fat digestion. Gallstones affect approximately 20 to 25 million Americans at some point in their lives. Treatment depends on various factors such as the severity of symptoms.
    • Five symptoms of problematic gallstones include:
      • Abdominal pain (typically in the right upper abdomen or under the breastbone)
      • Nausea
      • Vomiting
      • Bloating
      • Pain between the shoulder blades
    • Three treatment options for gallstones include:
      • Medication to control symptoms
      • Lifestyle changes
      • Cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal surgery; for symptomatic gallstones)
  5. Celiac disease: Celiac disease is a digestive disorder caused by the consumption of gluten—a type of protein found in certain grains (such as wheat, barley, and rye) or prepared foods.
  6. Crohn’s disease: Crohn's disease is an inflammatory disease of the digestive tract that affects approximately half a million Americans. It is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It is most commonly found in the small intestine, but it can affect any part of the digestive tract.
    • The three most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:
    • Researchers think that several factors cause Crohn’s disease, which includes:
      • Autoimmune reactions
      • Family history
      • Stress
    • Symptoms can be relieved with proper treatment. Medication to control inflammation and reduce immune system activity is the most common type of treatment. Corticosteroids, immunomodulators such as methotrexate, and biologic therapies such as tumor necrosis factor inhibitors adalimumab or infliximab are examples of medications.
  7. Ulcerative colitis (UC): UC is a chronic disease that causes inflammation and ulcers or sores on the large intestine lining. It's a type of IBD such as Crohn's disease. 
    • Seven UC symptoms include:
    • These symptoms, which can range from mild to severe, may disappear for weeks or years. Treatments of UC are designed to keep patients in remission. Corticosteroids, immunomodulators, and biologic therapies are examples of medications.
    • If UC progresses to the point where it causes other problems such as colon cancer, bleeding, or failure to improve despite medication, a surgeon may recommend removing a part or whole of the large intestine.
  8. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS):
    • IBS is a disorder that causes the following nine symptoms:
    • Researchers estimate that 10 to 15 percent of Americans have IBS, with women having the disorder two times as often as men. However, it is undertreated, with only one in every four people who experience symptoms seeing a doctor.
    • Four treatments of IBS include:
      • Diet
      • Lifestyle changes
      • Reduction of stress
      • Limiting certain types of gas-producing foods called high-FODMAP foods including milk, beans, fructose (fruit sugar), cabbage, broccoli, and onions (FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols)
  9. Diverticulitis: Diverticulitis is characterized by small pouches that protrude from weak spots in the large intestine or colon. Diverticulitis affects approximately five percent of the population in the United States, and approximately 200,000 Americans are hospitalized for it each year. Most people have no symptoms, but when these pouches become inflamed, they can cause problems.
    • Three main symptoms of diverticulitis include:
    • Four complications of diverticulitis include:
      • Infected, pus-filled areas in the colon called abscesses
      • Tears in the colon
      • Intestinal obstructions
      • Abdominal infections such as peritonitis (infection in the abdominal lining)
    • Four treatment options for diverticulitis include:
  10. Pancreatitis: Pancreatitis, also known as pancreatic inflammation, occurs when digestive enzymes in the pancreas cause damage to the organ. Pancreatitis is a serious condition that can result in heart, lung, or kidney failure. If not treated promptly, the condition can be fatal.
    • Five signs of pancreatitis include:
      • Pain in the upper abdomen that spreads to the back and may last for several days
      • Swollen abdomen
      • Fever
      • Nausea
      • Fast heartbeat
    • Four treatment options for pancreatitis include:
      • Intravenous fluids for dehydration
      • Pain medicine
      • Antibiotics
      • Low-fat diet or strict bowel rest with nothing to eat
    • If gallstones caused pancreatitis, a surgeon may remove the gallbladder.
  11. Peptic ulcers: An ulcer is a sore on the lining of the stomach, esophagus, or small intestine. Gastric and duodenal ulcers are the two most common types of peptic ulcers. These names all refer to the location of the ulcer.
    • Gastric ulcers occur in the stomach, whereas duodenal ulcers occur in the first part of the small intestine known as the duodenum. It is possible to have both gastric and duodenal ulcers at the same time.
    • The two most important causes of ulcers include:
      • Helicobacter pylori (also known as H. pylori) infection
      • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (a class of medications that are commonly used to treat pain)
    • Three treatment options for peptic ulcers include:
      • PPIs that are potent acid-reducing medications taken orally or intravenously
      • H2 blockers (acid-reducing medications)
      • Antibiotics
    • If the person has H. pylori infection, it should be treated immediately. It is critical to finish the entire course of antibiotics.
  12. Hemorrhoids: Hemorrhoids develop due to swollen veins in the lower rectum.
    • They can be of two types: internal and external.
      • External hemorrhoids have the appearance and feel of a protrusion located just outside of the anus.
      • Internal hemorrhoids lie inside the rectum and cannot be felt.
    • Hemorrhoids are typically uncomfortable and irritating to deal with, but there are several treatment options available, such as:
  13. Gastrointestinal (GI) cancer: A tumor in the GI tract can form as a result of a change in the DNA (mutation) that causes abnormal cells to grow. GI cancer is common in the United States and around the world.
    • The following are some of the common types of GI cancer:
    • Four types of risk factors for GI cancer include:
      • Men are more likely to develop GI cancer than women.
      • Risk increases with age.
      • Studies have linked GI cancer to cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, and unhealthy diets.
      • Tumors can be caused by underlying conditions such as GERD, H. pylori infection, IBD), hepatitis B or C virus infection, or liver cirrhosis.
    • The majority of the time, symptoms of GI cancer do not appear until the tumor has progressed.
    • Symptoms depend on the location of cancer and extent of the disease and may include:
      • Abdominal pain
      • Blood in stools or tarry stools
      • Nausea and vomiting
      • Unexplained weight loss
      • Bloating
      • Loss of appetite
    • Treatment options include:
      • When the tumor is easily accessible, surgery may be required.
      • When it is more difficult to reach or removal would have a significant effect on GI function, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be tried first.
      • Some types of GI cancer may be treated with targeted therapy or immunotherapy.
      • Some patients with liver cancer may be candidates for transplantation.
    • In the case of very advanced GI cancer that cannot be effectively treated, doctors may aim to relieve symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life (palliative therapy).

These digestive disorders disrupt the digestive process, resulting in various complications.

What is a digestive system disorder?

The digestive system is a complicated and diverse part of the body. It extends from the mouth to the rectum.

  • The primary function of the digestive system is to eliminate waste and assist the body in absorbing essential nutrients and minerals.
  • Studies report that the gut plays a crucial role in immunity.

Every one of us has experienced digestive issues, such as stomach pain, indigestion, or discomfort, at some point in our lives for various reasons.

The medical community classifies all diseases that affect the GI tract as digestive diseases. Unfortunately, more than 85 percent of all adult Americans have some form of intestinal disorder.

The best chance for a cure is always early detection. Many GI disturbances and disorders can be avoided or reduced by leading a healthy lifestyle and undergoing regular screening as recommended.

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Medically Reviewed on 1/21/2022
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Digestive Diseases: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases

Digestive System Diseases: https://www.dmu.edu/medterms/digestive-system/digestive-system-diseases/

Digestive System Diseases: https://bio.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Introductory_and_General_Biology/Book%3A_Introductory_Biology_(CK-12)/13%3A_Human_Biology/13.41%3A_Digestive_System_Diseases

Problems of the Digestive System: https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/problems-of-the-digestive-system

Gastrointestinal illnesses: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/gastro-intestinal-illnesses