St. Luke's University Health Network

Digestive

Treating Digestive Disorders at St. Luke’s

Think of your body as a vehicle, and food is the gasoline. When your body digests food, it gains energy and nourishment for its cells.

Your body’s digestive system is a long tube that winds its way from your mouth to your anus. Your digestive system includes your:

  • Esophagus
  • Stomach
  • Small intestines
  • Large intestines
  • Anal canal

Meanwhile, other organs such as the liver, gallbladder and pancreas help with digestion, as well as support other vital functions.

The doctors at St. Luke's are specially trained and highly experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of the many conditions that affect the digestive system. They work to make sure that patients receive the best diagnosis and treatments.

What are Digestive Disorders?

Also called gastrointestinal diseases, there are many digestive disorders, and each has its own set of symptoms. Common symptoms of digestive disorders are:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Changes in the frequency and make-up of bowel movements
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Jaundice
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Heartburn
  • Difficulty swallowing 

Disease and Conditions Affecting the
Digestive System

There are many diseases and conditions that affect the digestive system. Some of these are shown below.

Abdominal pain – Pain in the stomach area that can be caused by a number of conditions or disorders.

Belching – usually related to or swallowing air (aerophagia) and eating disturbances

Celiac disease – An allergic condition in the small intestine. This disease is caused by gluten, a protein in most types of grain. 

Cirrhosis – advanced scarring of the liver that can lead to liver failure or liver cancer. 

Colonic diseases – A number of diseases that are present in the colon.

Crohn’s disease – an auto-immune disease that affects and inflames the small and the large intestine.

Diverticulitis – Occurs when a small pocket or diverticulum on the wall of the colon perforates and becomes inflamed or infected.

Dysphagia – Difficulty or pain when swallowing solid foods and/or drinks.

Fatty liver disease – abnormal fat in the liver that can lead to inflammation and scarring.

Gastroenteritis – Irritation of the stomach and intestines. Also known as stomach flu.

Heartburn – A burning pain in the chest and upper abdomen area. This pain is caused by acid flowing back from the stomach into the esophagus, which is the tube that runs from the mouth to the stomach.   

Hepatitis – inflammation of the liver, usually caused by a virus (for example, hepatitis A, B or C), a medicine or the immune system (for example, autoimmune hepatitis).

Hiatal hernia – Occurs when part of the stomach pokes (slides up) through the thin muscle between the stomach and the chest. This thin muscle is called the diaphragm.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s Disease) – chronic inflammatory condition that may lead to abdominal pain, bleeding and diarrhea.

Lactose intolerance – People with lactose intolerance do not have enough of an enzyme called lactase to digest all cow’s milk. Lactose is the main sugar in milk.

Peptic ulcer – A sore or lesion in the stomach or small intestine. Peptic ulcers are caused by a bacterial infection or by anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin.

Stomach disorders – Certain conditions that affect the stomach.

Ulcerative colitis – an auto-immune disease that affects and inflames only the large intestine.


Functional bowel disorders

Constipation – An unusual decrease in the number of bowel movements and problems passing stools.

Diarrhea – An unusual increase in the frequency of bowel movements and changes to the liquid make-up of the stool.

Irritable bowel syndrome – A disorder of the large intestine that can cause cramp-like pain in the abdomen; diarrhea or constipation; bloating and gas in the abdomen; and more.


Pelvic floor disorders 

A pelvic floor disorder occurs when a woman’s pelvic organs, muscles and tissue weaken or are injured.

Fecal incontinence – The inability to control bowels. For instance, being unable to make it to the toilet when the urge to have a bowel movement comes or having stool leak from the rectum while passing gas.

Pain and discomfort

Rectal prolapse – When the rectum loses its internal support and falls outside the body.


Anal disorders

Anal irritation – itching and burning at the anal area (also called pruritus).

Fissures – Small tears in the lining of the anal canal. These tears may cause bleeding and/or pain.

Fistulas – An irregular connection between an organ, vessel or intestine and another structure. Fistulas usually result from injury or surgery.

Hemorrhoids – Swollen anal or rectal blood vessels. Hemorrhoids can appear at the anal opening or in the anal canal.


Cancer

Barrett’s esophagus – changes in the esophagus that can increase a person’s risk for developing esophageal cancer, a condition that is becoming more and more common.

Colon and Rectal cancer – Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine (colon). The large intestine is the lower part of your digestive system. Rectum is the last part of the colon just before the anus.


Tests for Digestive Disorders

Anal Manometry – to check the pressures and the strength of the anal sphincter muscle.

Colonoscopy – A colonoscopy allows a doctor to look inside the large intestine to look for abnormal growths, inflamed tissue, ulcers and more. Doctors often use colonoscopies to look for polyps and signs of early-stage cancer.

Defecography – looking at the function of the rectum by X-ray.

Endoanal ultrasound – This examination is used to detect anal disorders. With endoanal ultrasound, a transducer with a plastic cone is inserted in the anal canal (anus) to allow an ultrasonic examination of the anal sphincter muscle and the anal canal.

Endorectal Ultrasound – exam of the rectal wall by ultrasound. It is usually used to evaluate the depth of involvement of a tumor or a lesion in the rectum.

Endoscopy (also known as EGD or esophagogastroduodenoscopy) – Allows a doctor to evaluate the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. View our Frequently Asked Questions for patients.

ERCP (also known as Endoscopic Retrograde Pancreatiography) – Allows a doctor to evaluate the biliary and pancreatic duct.

Liver biopsy – Allows a doctor to obtain a tissue sample for evaluation by a pathologist.


Treatments for Digestive Disorders

There are a number of ways to treat digestive disorders. While many treatments do not involve surgery, there are new minimally invasive surgical techniques that can be used to help. Talk to your doctor about the options available to you.


Preventing Digestive Disorders

One of the best ways to prevent digestive disorders is to eat properly. Have a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables and grains along with sufficient calorie intake for your age and sex to your level of activities. Do not take in more calories than your body needs. Also, remember to eat regular meals; try to keep the calorie and fiber content of your meals consistent. Skipping meals can cause digestive disorders.

No diet is right for everyone. Depending on your digestive concern, you and your doctor can discuss the best diet strategy for you.