Common Digestive Tract Problems
Digestive disorders are problems that can affect any part of the digestive tract and can be mild or quite severe. The digestive tract itself is comprised of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, and anus. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, there are approximately 70 million people in America with digestive disorders.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is essentially chronic heartburn. In GERD the esophageal sphincter, which is like a valve between the stomach and the food pipe (esophagus), opens at inappropriate times. This allows food, liquids or stomach acid to move up from the stomach into the esophagus, which causes the burning sensation.
Lactose intolerance is an inability by the body to breakdown lactose, a sugar found in dairy products. Those with lactose intolerance do not produce the specific enzyme, called lactase, which normally breaks down the lactose. The severity of the condition is usually dictated by how much or how little lactose is consumed.
Dysphagis is a condition in which a person has difficulty swallowing. It can have a variety of causes. It can be caused by a narrowing of the esophagus due to GERD. It can be caused by achalasia, which is a condition in which the muscles of the esophagus do not contract. It can also be caused by esophageal stricture, which is prolonged contraction of the esophageal muscles. In some cases, esophageal cancer will result in dysphagis. Achalasia and esophageal stricture can be digestive tract problems independent of dysphagis.
Chronic pancreatitis is a condition marked by an inflammation of the pancreas that creates scarring of the organ. This inflammation inhibits the production of digestive enzymes. When this occurs, it can inhibit the body’s ability to properly break food down into useful components. This condition can also affect insulin production.
Crohn’s Disease/Ulcerative Colitis
Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are inflammatory conditions that affect the intestines. Crohn’s disease primarily causes inflammation of the small intestine. It can cause damage to other parts of the digestive tract, most often the large intestine. Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation in the large intestine. It can cause either constipation or diarrhea.