What Are the Different Types of Digestive System Disorders?

Meshell Powell

There are several different types of digestive system disorders, each of which requires an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan by a qualified physician. Some of the most common illnesses affecting the digestive system include gastroesophageal reflux disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and diverticular disease. Additional types of digestive system disorders include lactose intolerance and cancer of the digestive tract.

A diagram showing diverticulitis and other colon diseases.
A diagram showing diverticulitis and other colon diseases.

Gastrointestinal reflux disease is among the most frequently diagnosed digestive system disorders. Commonly referred to as GERD, this disorder occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, usually due to the dysfunction of a muscle known as the esophageal sphincter. Symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease may include frequent heartburn, difficulty swallowing, and the regurgitation of food or liquid into the esophagus. Over-the-counter or prescription medications usually provide sufficient symptom relief, although surgical intervention may be needed in the more severe cases of this disorder.

Some of the organs of the digestive system.
Some of the organs of the digestive system.

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is characterized by abdominal pain and alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea. Unlike other types of digestive system disorders, this condition does not lead to intestinal inflammation and is not thought to increase a person's risks of developing more serious complications. Treatment for irritable bowel syndrome usually involves dietary and lifestyle changes, although prescription medications are sometimes used to help manage symptoms as well.

An illustration of a human stomach.
An illustration of a human stomach.

Diverticular disease occurs when there is inflammation involving small pouches known as diverticula in the colon. When several of these pouches develop in the colon, the condition is referred to as diverticulosis. Inflammation of infection of these pouches is termed diverticulitis. Over-the-counter pain medications, prescription antibiotics, and surgery are among the possible treatment options for diverticular disease.

Lactose intolerance is a relatively common disorder in which a person cannot properly digest milk sugars known as lactose. Symptoms may include nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, usually within two hours of consuming milk products. Treatment for this condition is simple and involves the avoidance of products containing lactose.

Cancer is among the most serious digestive system disorders and can affect any area of the digestive tract, including the stomach, intestines, or esophagus. Fatigue, abnormal bleeding, and the presence of tumors are some of the most common signs that cancer may be present. In the earliest stages of cancer, surgical intervention may be the only treatment option necessary. In later stages or if the tumor is inoperable, chemotherapy or radiation treatments may be advised by the supervising physician.

One common illnesses affecting the digestive system is irritable bowel syndrome.
One common illnesses affecting the digestive system is irritable bowel syndrome.

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