Digestive System Disorders

Human body needs a regular supply of nutrients to grow, to replace damaged or worn-out tissue, to form protein and to supply energy for various chemical reactions taking place constantly in body. These nutrients are extracted from food as food passes through digestive system. This system consists of digestive tract running from mouth to anus and digestive glands including liver, gall bladder and pancreas. The tract and gland work together as a system to take in food and break it down so that nutrients in it can be absorbed into blood stream.

The digestive tract is divided into many sections, each of which has a vital part to play in digestion process as follows:

Teeth and gums:
Chewing breaks down food into smaller pieces, facilitating work of digestive enzymes and enabling to swallow food.
Tooth decay, tooth abscess, orthodontia, gingivitis, denture problems or problems with wisdom teeth are some of common disorders affecting teeth and gums.

Mouth and tongue:
Mouth holds food and helps direct it to teeth.

Saliva functions as a lubricant and contains an enzyme that breaks down starch. Tongue moves food around mouth as it is chewed and then forms it into a ball called bolus for swallowing.
Mouth ulcers, oral thrush, leukoplakia, glossitis are common disorders affecting mouth and tongue.

Esophagus is a muscular tube that runs from back of your throat through neck and chest up to your stomach. As you swallow, back of your tongue pushes a ball of food into esophagus. Soft palate closes off passage to your nose and epiglottis prevents entry of food into windpipe and into lungs. Rhythmic contractions of esophageal muscles move food down through chest to the entrance of stomach, where a muscular segment stops food from coming back up into esophagus.
Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), and odontophagia (painful swallowing) are the two commonest symptoms seen in disorders affecting esophagus including malignancy.

Stomach and Duodenum:
Muscles in stomach wall pummel food into pulp as digestive juices, formed in the stomach wall, start to break food chemically into smaller pieces. It is then passed to duodenum, which is first part of small intestine. The breakdown of food is completed in duodenum and rest of small intestine with help from other organs like liver, gall bladder and pancreas.Liver has many functions, one of which is to produce bile that passes into duodenum to help break down fats. Bile is stored in gall bladder, which is connected to duodenum through bile duct. The pancreas is located beneath stomach and produces juices that pass along pancreatic ducts into duodenum where they help breakdown carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The nutrients of food are then absorbed into blood stream and finally reach up to each living cell of body and provide vital energy.

It takes at least 3-5hours for contents of meal to reach lower parts of small intestine and leave stomach and duodenum completely empty. The chemicals of stomach are very strong and overproduction or faulty production of them can cause damage to mucous membrane that lines the stomach and duodenum. Also in some people certain drugs or fluids like excess of tea/coffee etc easily irritate this membrane.

Dyspepsia (indigestion), gastritis, sprue or more serious problem like peptic ulcer etc is common disorders that affect stomach and duodenum.

Large Intestine and Rectum:
Last section of digestive tract is large intestine where water is absorbed into body from undigestible remains of food. Waste passes into rectum and is expelled as stools through anus which is a canal leading from rectum to external anal opening.Irritable colon, ulcerative colitis, cancer of colon is common disorders affecting large intestine and rectum. Common anal disorders are hemorrhoids, anal fissure and anal fistula.

Infections of digestive tract occur when certain infectious agents such as viruses or bacteria multiply rapidly in stomach or intestines. This causes disorders of various types and of varying severity like gastroenteritis, cholera, dysentery, typhoid fever, food poisoning etc.

Inflammatory diseases like acute/chronic hepatitis or pancreatitis, and other diseases like jaundice, gallstones etc are common disorder that affect liver, gall bladder and pancreas and thus affect digestion and metabolism.

Generalized abdominal problems include peritonitis, and intestinal obstruction with severe abdominal pain as presenting symptom in it. Surgery is needed in case of intestinal obstruction and select cases of hernia.

Common causes of disorders of digestive system:

Eating food in excess quantity than usual or eating/chewing continuously throughout day.
Eating lunch/dinner too late, at irregular times or when much sensation of hunger is not felt but still some food is gulped down.
Food you are not used to will result in disorders of digestive system like indigestion.
Eating food that may not be easy to digest at a time when digestive fire is low like in fever etc will result in more disorders like indigestion, vomiting etc.
Excess of tea/coffee, especially before meals lowers the digestive fire and cause indigestion.
Drinking hot and cold food one after another also cause digestive disorders.
Excess of dry, spicy and low-fiber food as also straining at stools is a common cause for hemorrhoids.

Common sign and symptoms:

Though sign and symptoms differ according to section of digestive tract involved, general sign and symptoms include:

Improper digestion of food.
Dislike for food.
Distention of abdomen, flatulence.
Pain in abdomen usually severe in some cases.
Excessive thirst.

General treatment measures include:

Fasting: Fasting will help to increase digestive fire and improves digestion of food.
Light food: Food should be light to digest and heavy food avoided like sandwiches, burgers pizza etc.
Soup: Hot soup of serpent gourd, or green-gram etc is useful with addition of spices like ginger etc as required.
Warm water: Drinking warm water especially during meals aids in digestion of food.
Purification measures like process of emesis or purgation, medicated enema etc should be carried out under expert guidance.
Local fomentation over abdomen is useful.

Digestive System Disorders