Understanding Digestion Problems

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on August 25, 2010
Medically Reviewed by Rebecca Wylie Wallace, MD

What Are Digestion Problems?

The digestive system and its accessory organs are diverse, including components such as the mucous membranes lining your cheeks, the smooth muscle of your gut, and the spongy glandular tissue of your pancreas. Acting as a unit, these tissues carry out their mission with astonishing efficiency most of the time.

However, a variety of problems can arise within this assortment of glands, muscles, nerves, connective tissue, and other structures. Some problems, such as autoimmune conditions, arise spontaneously from unknown causes and can be managed but not cured. Other diseases, such as hepatitis and cancers of the mouth, esophagus, and pancreas, develop gradually and are often linked to unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as unsafe sexual practices, alcohol misuse, smoking, and use of smokeless tobacco.

What Are the Types of Digestive System Disorders?

It's helpful to classify diseases and conditions of the digestive system according to their type or cause, as shown below. Such pigeonholing is never precise, of course, and the categories in this list sometimes overlap. Appendicitis, for instance, might be classified as either an acute infectious condition or an inflammatory disorder.

Similarly, chronic infections — those that recur often or progress slowly — might at first cause sudden, severe illness. Finally, some entries may be either diseases in their own right or symptoms of other disorder. Cirrhosis of the liver, for example, is a secondary condition resulting from other diseases and conditions such as hepatitis B, cystic fibrosis, and primary biliary cirrhosis, among others.

Common Cancers

  • Mouth/oral cavity
  • Esophagus
  • Stomach
  • Liver  (hepatocellular carcinoma)
  • Bile ducts
  • Pancreas (islet cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma)
  • Colon and rectum (colorectal cancer)
  • Anus and rectum (anorectal cancer)

Infections (Acute and Chronic)

  • Appendicitis
  • Foodborne illness (food poisoning)
  • Peritonitis
  • Viral gastroenteritis
  • Cholangitis
  • Hepatitis A 
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C
  • Peptic Ulcer
  • Peptic ulcer (Helicobacter pylori)

Inflammatory and Autoimmune Conditions

Anatomic, Functional, or Structural Problems

  • Adhesions (scar tissue)
  • Anal fissure
  • Anorectal fistula
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Diverticular disease (diverticulitis and diverticulosis)
  • Dysphagia (difficult or painful swallowing)
  • Fecal incontinence
  • Flatulence (gas)
  • Gallstones
  • Gastroparesis (delayed gastric emptying)
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) tract bleeding
  • Hiatal (diaphragmatic) hernia
  • Indigestion/heartburn/dyspepsia/acid reflux/gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Abdominal Hernia
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Jaundice

Food Intolerance

  • Celiac disease
  • Lactose intolerance
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