Stomach

Written by Ann Pietrangelo
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on May 22, 2013

Overview

People often refer to the entire abdominal region as “the stomach.” In actuality, the stomach is an organ located in the upper left part of your abdomen. It is the first intra-abdominal part of your digestive tract. Your stomach contains several muscles, and can change shape as you eat or change posture. It plays an instrumental role in digestion.

The Stomach's Role in Digestion

When you swallow, food travels down your esophagus, passes the lower esophageal sphincter, and enters the stomach. Your stomach has three jobs:

  1. temporary storage of food and liquids
  2. production of digestive juices
  3. emptying the mixture into the small intestine

How long this process takes depends on the foods you eat and how well your stomach muscles function. Certain foods, like carbohydrates, pass through quickly, while proteins remain longer. Fats take the most time to process.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Reflux is when stomach contents such as food, acid or bile moves back into your esophagus. When this happens with regular frequency (twice a week or more), it is called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This chronic condition can cause pain (heartburn) and irritate the esophagus lining.

Risk factors include:

  • obesity
  • smoking
  • pregnancy
  • asthma
  • diabetes
  • hiatal hernia
  • delay in stomach emptying
  • scleroderma
  • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome

Treatment involves over-the-counter remedies and dietary changes. Severe cases require prescription medication or surgery.

Gastritis

Gastritis is when your stomach lining becomes inflamed. Acute gastritis may come on suddenly; chronic gastritis happens slowly. According to the Cleveland Clinic, eight in 1,000 people have acute gastritis and two of every 10,000 develop chronic gastritis (Cleveland Clinic, 2013).

Symptoms of gastritis include:

  • hiccups
  • nausea, vomiting
  • indigestion
  • bloating
  • appetite loss
  • black stool (due to bleeding in the stomach)

Causes include:

  • stress
  • bile reflux from the small intestine
  • access alcohol consumption
  • chronic vomiting
  • use of aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs)
  • bacteria or viruses
  • pernicious anemia
  • autoimmune diseases

Medications can reduce acid and inflammation. You should avoid foods and beverages that cause symptoms.

Peptic Ulcer

If the lining of your stomach breaks down you may have a peptic ulcer. Most are located in the first layer of the inner lining. An ulcer that goes all the way through the stomach lining is called a perforation and requires immediate medical attention.

Symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain
  • nausea, vomiting
  • inability to drink fluids
  • feeling hungry soon after eating
  • fatigue
  • weight loss
  • black colored stool (tarry stools)
  • chest pain

Risk factors include:

  • Helicobacter pylori bacteria
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • too much aspirin or NSAIDs
  • tobacco
  • radiation treatments
  • using a breathing machine
  • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome

Treatment depends on the cause. It may involve medications or surgery to stop the bleeding.

Viral Gastroenteritis

Viral gastroenteritis is when a virus causes your stomach and intestines to become inflamed. The main symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea. You may also have cramping, headache, and fever.

Most people recover within a few days. The very young, elderly, and people with other diseases are at increased risk of dehydration.

Viral gastroenteritis is spread through close contact or contaminated food or drink. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), outbreaks are more likely to occur in closed environments like schools and nursing homes (CDC, 2011)

Hiatal Hernia

The hiatus is the gap in the muscle wall that separates your chest from your abdomen. If your stomach slides up into the chest through this gap, you have a hiatal hernia. If part of the stomach pushes through and stays in the chest cavity next to the esophagus, it is called a parasophageal hernia. This less common type of hernia can cut off the stomach's blood supply.

Symptoms of hiatal hernia include bloating, belching, pain, or a bitter taste in the throat. The cause is not always known, but can be due to injury or strain. Your risk factor is higher if you are overweight, over age 50, or smoke.

Treatment involves medications to treat pain and heartburn. Your doctor may recommend you maintain a healthy weight, limit fatty and acidic foods, and elevate the head of your bed. Severe cases may require surgery.

Gastroparesis

Gastroparesis is a condition in which your stomach takes too long to empty.

Symptoms include:

  • nausea, vomiting
  • weight loss
  • bloating
  • heartburn

Causes include:

Treatment may include medication and dietary changes. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary.

Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer generally grows slowly over the course of many years. In most cases, it begins in the innermost layer of the stomach lining.

Untreated, stomach cancer can spread to other organs or into the lymph nodes or bloodstream. The earlier stomach cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the outlook.

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