Digestive Health

Your digestive system breaks down foods and liquids into their chemical components—carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and the like—that the body can absorb as nutrients and use for energy or to build or repair cells.

Food's journey through the digestive system begins in the mouth. It passes down the esophagus and into the stomach, where digestion begins. Next stop: the small intestine, which in the average person is more than 20 feet long. The small intestine further breaks down food, absorbs nutrients, and sends them into the bloodstream.

The remaining watery food residue moves into your large intestine, a muscular tube about 4 feet long. As undigested food passes through it, bacteria feed off the remnants. The wall of the large intestine soaks up most of the remaining water. Any undigested food that remains is expelled by a highly efficient disposal system.

Like all complicated machinery, the digestive tract doesn't always run smoothly. In some people, the problem is genetic. In others, the immune system mistakenly attacks the digestive system, causing various digestive woes. What we eat, and how we eat, can also throw off digestive health.

Common ailments of the digestive system include:

  • heartburn, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • peptic ulcer
  • diverticular disease
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • gallstones
  • celiac disease
  • constipation
  • diarrhea

Keeping your digestive system healthy

There are several ways to keep your digestive system healthy:

  • Don't smoke.
  • Keep your weight in the healthy range.
  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet.
  • Exercise several times a week, if not every day.
  • Learn different ways to reduce stress.

Digestive Health Articles

Diarrhea

Diarrhea is more frequent and more liquid bowel movements than normal. There are many causes. Diarrhea often is caused by an infection with bacteria, viruses or a parasite. Bacteria cause diarrhea either by invading the intestine or by producing a toxin that makes the intestine secrete more water. When the diarrhea is caused by food contaminated with bacteria or parasites, people often refer to this as food poisoning. (Locked) More »

Esophageal Rings And Webs

Esophageal rings and webs are folds that block your esophagus either partially or completely. Rings are bands of normal esophageal tissue that form constrictions around the inside of the esophagus. They occur in the lower esophagus. Webs, which arise in the upper esophagus, are thin layers of cells that grow across the inside of the esophagus. Either condition may make it difficult to swallow solid food. Experts aren't sure what causes esophageal rings and webs. The condition may be congenital (inherited) or may develop after birth. People with esophageal rings and webs commonly have reflux symptoms. When esophageal webs occur together with iron deficiency anemia the condition is known as Plummer-Vinson syndrome. (Locked) More »

Hernia Repair

A hernia repair is the surgical procedure to fix a hernia. This procedure is also known as herniorrhaphy. A hernia occurs when part of an internal organ or body part protrudes into an area where it should not. The most common hernias occur in the abdominal area. A small portion of the intestine, or a piece of fat, pokes through a weak area in the muscular wall of the abdomen. This causes an abnormal bulge under the skin of the abdomen, usually near the groin or navel. (Locked) More »

Peptic Ulcer

A peptic ulcer is a sore or hole that forms in the lining of the stomach or intestine. The word "peptic" refers to the digestive tract. An ulcer in the lining of the stomach is a gastric ulcer. An ulcer in the first part of the small intestine is a duodenal ulcer. The lining of the stomach is a layer of special cells and mucous. Mucous prevents the stomach and duodenum from being damaged by acid and digestive enzymes. If there is a break in the lining (such as an ulcer), the tissue under the lining can be damaged by the enzymes and corrosive acid. If the ulcer is small, there may be few symptoms. The wound can heal on its own. If the ulcer is deep, it can cause serious pain or bleeding. Rarely, acids in the digestive juices may eat completely through the stomach or duodenum wall. Peptic ulcers are very common. They become more common as people age. (Locked) More »

Esophagitis

The esophagus is the muscular tube that carries food through the chest, from the mouth to the stomach. Normally you don't feel it except when you are swallowing. However, if the inside lining of your esophagus becomes inflamed, you may experience pain or problems with swallowing. This inflammation of the esophagus is called esophagitis. (Locked) More »

Achalasia

Achalasia is an uncommon disorder of the esophagus. The disorder makes it difficult for food to pass from the esophagus into the stomach. The esophagus is a muscular tube. It carries food from the mouth to the stomach. Normally, coordinated contractions of smooth muscle move food through the esophagus. These contractions are called peristaltic waves. Between the esophagus and stomach is a muscle called the esophageal sphincter (LES). The sphincter surrounds the esophagus. It keeps the esophagus closed. This prevents food and acid from splashing back up into the esophagus from the stomach. When you swallow, this sphincter relaxes. It opens to allow food to pass into the stomach. At the same time, nerves coordinate the contractions of the esophagus. This moves food into the stomach when the sphincter opens. In achalasia, the nerve cells in the lower two-thirds of the esophagus and the sphincter are abnormal. This causes uncoordinated or weak peristaltic waves. It also causes the sphincter to remain closed. The cause of achalasia is unknown. It does not run in families. Most people with achalasia develop symptoms between the ages of 25 and 60. (Locked) More »

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis B is hepatitis caused by the hepatitis B virus. Hepatitis B virus spreads through contact with infected blood. Specifically, hepatitis B may be spread through: Direct contact with the blood of an infected person Unprotected sexual activity with an infected person Needle sharing among intravenous drug users Sharing razors or other personal items with an infected person Being pierced or tattooed with contaminated instruments Blood transfusions (extremely rare in the United States because of improved testing) Childbirth, when the virus is passed from mother to child (Locked) More »

Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer, is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that form the inner lining of the stomach. The disease often does not cause symptoms until its later stages. Usually, by the time stomach cancer is diagnosed, the prognosis is poor. Most people who are diagnosed with stomach cancer are over age 60. The disease rarely occurs before age 50. (Locked) More »