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What Is Gastrointestinal Inflammation?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Gastrointestinal inflammation is an immune response in the digestive tract that can cause symptoms like nausea, cramping, and diarrhea. A doctor may use a specific diagnostic term like colitis, referring to inflammation in the bowel, to discuss a patient’s case. There are a number of reasons for patients to experience this common medical problem. Testing can explore some possible explanations and help the medical provider develop some treatment recommendations to help the patient resolve the issue. These may involve an assortment of options including medications, lifestyle modifications, and complementary medicine like acupuncture or massage.

Some examples of inflammation can include gastritis, esophagitis, and colitis, all named for different parts of the digestive tract. In the involved area, large numbers of white blood cells are present to counter a perceived threat to the body. They can cause swelling, redness, tenderness, and irritation, while extreme inflammation can form lesions which may bleed. Patients with gastrointestinal inflammation may notice symptoms like mucus and blood in the stool, trouble swallowing, loss of appetite, and abdominal discomfort.

Infections can be a potential cause. As microorganisms move in, the immune system responds by dispatching white blood cells and chemicals to the area to kill or contain them. This response persists until the infection resolves, which may take days to weeks, unless the patient receives treatment to address it more quickly. Other patients can develop autoimmune conditions where the body starts attacking itself, treating its own cells as a threat.

Some diseases can cause gastrointestinal inflammation as a potential side effect. People with acid reflux, for example, often develop inflammation in the esophagus caused by chronic irritation with stomach acid. Genetic conditions may interfere with the production of mucus, enzymes, and other components of the digestive tract, which can also contribute to the development of pain and irritation. Symptoms may manifest shortly after birth as a baby’s digestive tract struggles to adapt.

Treatment options for gastrointestinal inflammation can include antibiotics to kill infectious organisms, steroids to manage immune responses, and probiotic medications to promote digestion. Some patients may require surgery to remove badly damaged tissue. This condition can become chronic, in which case the patient may need repeat followups, surgeries, and other procedures to monitor it and provide prompt treatment when new symptoms occur. Management tools like dietary modifications can also be considered to control outbreaks of gastrointestinal inflammation and keep the patient as comfortable as possible.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By discographer — On Aug 13, 2013

We studied about gastroenteritis in class today. This is basically a form of food poisoning. It's when a bacteria or virus causes inflammation in the stomach and intestines. It's funny because I had food poisoning just last week from leftover fast food. It was not fun. I had vomiting and diarrhea and had to go to the hospital. They gave me an IV there and I'm still on antibiotics.

By stoneMason — On Aug 13, 2013

@ZipLine-- Absolutely.

For example, I have a gluten intolerance and before I was diagnosed, I had chronic gastrointestinal inflammation.

Basically when you consume a food that your body can't digest, it irritates the stomach and intestines and causes inflammation and bloating among other things. As long as I avoid gluten, I don't experience this.

Some autoimmune diseases like Crohn's disease also causes gastrointestinal inflammation. The difference is that autoimmune diseases cause constant inflammation no matter what, whereas, in food intolerance, the inflammation is only triggered by the food when it's eaten.

By ZipLine — On Aug 12, 2013

Can food intolerance cause gastrointestinal inflammation?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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