Digestive Disorders

February 7, 2017

Disorders that affect the digestive (gastrointestinal) system are called digestive disorders. Some disorders simultaneously affect several parts of the digestive system, whereas others affect only one part or organ. Digestive symptoms can vary greatly in character and severity depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Depending on the cause, digestive symptoms can last briefly and disappear quickly, such as symptoms that occur during a single episode of indigestion. Digestive symptoms can also persist or recur over a longer period of time, such as when due to colorectal cancer or inflammatory bowel disease.

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 –

  • Bleeding
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn
  • Incontinence
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain in the belly
  • Swallowing problems
  • Weight gain or loss

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.

Other problems include –

  • Gallstones, cholecystitis, and cholangitis
  • Rectal problems, such as anal fissure, hemorrhoids, proctitis, and rectal prolapse
  • Esophagus problems, such as stricture (narrowing) and achalasia
  • Liver problems, such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C, cirrhosis, liver failure, and autoimmune and alcoholic hepatitis
  • Pancreatitis and pancreatic pseudocyst
  • Intestinal problems, such as polyps and cancer, infections, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, malabsorption, short bowel syndrome, and intestinal ischemia
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcer disease, and hiatal hernia

Accessory organs are not part of the digestive tract itself, but they facilitate the process of digestion. These organs include the tongue, teeth, salivary glands, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. The appendix is not exactly an accessory organ, but it likely played a role in digestion of food sometime in the past. It is now vestigial, meaning it has lost that original function.


Stress Stresses of all kinds, physical, emotional and mental, are primary causes of poor digestion. All unconscious activity in the human body, including both our reactions to stress and digestion, are controlled by the autonomic nervous system.

Antibiotics – Antibiotics can kill a high percentage of the naturally occurring beneficial bacteria that we need for digestion. They affect these necessary bacteria as well as the pathogenic bacteria they are designed to protect us against.

Poor Diet

  • Processed food consumption – In the refining process, sugar and flour (refined carbohydrates) are stripped of dozens of essential nutrients and fiber.
  • Low fiber diets – Fiber is a non nutritive food component necessary to move residue through the intestines.
  • Not enough raw food – Food enzymes help digest food and they are supplied (aside from supplementation) solely by raw foods. Cooking at high temp over 116 degrees destroys food enzymes.
  • Food allergies – Including those to dairy, wheat and fruits.
  • Junk foods – These (often high fat, high refined cartbohydrate and or high sugar) foods are high in calories but almost completely devoid of nutritional value.

Eating Habits

  • When food is swallowed after only a few short chews, those food particles are harder for the body to digest and can result in gas, bloating and indigestion.
  • Fruits should be eaten alone. Since they are high in enzymes, they take only 20-30 minutes to travel through the system and for their nutrients to be absorbed. When eaten with other foods which need much longer transit time, fruit will ferment in the transit process causing gastric distress.
  • Combining proteins with heavy starches like pasta and potatoes stress the digestive system.

Drugs – All drugs and chemicals are basically toxins to the digestive system. Many drugs directly affect the digestive organs and digestion itself. Over-the-counter, prescription drugs and recreational drugs that can affect digestion include: antacids, antihistamines, NSAIDS, birth control pills, laxatives, steroids, alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, marijuana, cocaine and many others. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen can directly irritate the lining of the stomach impairing digestion leading to infection.

Environmental Toxins – Modern life is full of environmental toxins including chemicals, radiation, solvents, food additives, air/water pollution, mercury and other metals. When exposed to them, the body naturally reacts to detoxify, which uses large amount of energy that leaves little energy for proper digestive function.

Genetics – As with all functions and organs genetics plays an important role in digestive functioning and our ability to withstand stress and resist digestive problems and diseases.

Problems experienced by family members can be clues to our own genetic strengths and weaknesses as we learn more about this subject and move in the direction of improved health.


Digestive symptoms may be accompanied by symptoms in other body systems depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Other symptoms that may occur along with digestive symptoms include –

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Chills
  • Dizziness
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Flu-like symptoms (fatigue, fever, sore throat, headache, cough, aches and pains)
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
  • Pale skin
  • Referred shoulder pain
  • Weakness (loss of strength)
  • Weight loss, malabsorption, and vitamin deficiencies

In some cases, digestive symptoms may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include –

  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness
  • Dizziness
  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Pulsating mass in abdomen
  • Rapid pulse
  • Respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, wheezing, not breathing, or choking
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Vomiting blood, major rectal bleeding or bloody stool
  • Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)

Conditions of Digestive Disorders

  • Acute Pancreatitis
  • Cholangiocarcinoma
  • Chronic Pancreatitis
  • Constipation
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Diarrhea
  • Enterocutaneous Fistula
  • Gallstones
  • Gastroparesis
  • Heartburn
  • Intestinal Failure
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Obesity
  • Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis
  • Ulcerative Colitis
  • Ulcers
  • Ventral Hernia