Digestive System Diseases

Dozens of abnormalities have been found associated with the gastrointestinal system, some of which are mild while others may even lead to the immediate death of the victim. Being the largest organ system in the body, there are many primary and secondary parts associated with it, and if any of these gets infected by a germ or is damaged by some other agents, the functioning of whole system gets badly disturbed. As this system is considered as the primary outlet of energy provision for all other organs of the body, the adverse effects of its malfunctioning are spread throughout the body. Here follows a brief digestive system diseases list with the description, symptomatic conditions and some of the most frequently suggested treatment measures for each case.


Commonly known as piles, this digestive system disease is characterized by the enlargement and inflammation of veins (varicose veins) around rectum and in the walls of anus. The blood (devoid of oxygen) in veins has to flow only in one direction (i.e. towards heart) that is controlled by the valves at various points in the blood vessels, but they fail to function if extra pressure is exerted against them. Such a condition of varicose veins results in the reverse flow or stagnation of blood, and if a vein gorges with blood in the anal region, hemorrhoids develop which are usually painless but may rapture and start bleeding. In severe cases, painful bleeding occurs along with itching and discharge of mucus from anus that can be treated through drug administration and surgery.

Symptoms of Hemorrhoids:

  • Pain and itching in the rectum or anus
  • Swelling of rectal area
  • Bloody stools due to rupture of veins
  • Discharge of mucus from anus

Constipation (Costiveness)

One of the most commonly occurring digestive system diseases, it is characterized by hard, painfully passing and infrequent bowels. If there are less than three stools in a week, you are medically confirmed to be suffering from costiveness, but in severe cases, it is reduced to just one stool a week. In case there is complete bowel obstruction, your very existence must be under threat. Treatment is carried out through preventive measures, drinking a hot liquid or oral intake of laxatives, but in critical conditions, enemas may also be advised by your health care provider.

Symptoms of Constipation:

  • Straining and irregularity in bowel movements
  • Hardening of stool
  • Pain or swelling in the abdomen
  • Vomiting
  • Unusually delay in successive bowels

Abdominal Pain

An unpleasant sensation felt in the abdominal area of the body, it may originate from the malfunctioning of abdominal wall, cavity or any of parts of digestive system, namely, large intestine, small intestine, pancreas, liver, gallbladder and spleen. The frequent causes include loss of blood supply to an organ, obstruction of bile duct by bile stone, and inflammation or distention in any part of your belly. Usually, preventive measures and drug administration can easily relieve the pain, but in severe cases, surgery or some other therapy may be suggested to eliminate the cause of disturbance.

Symptoms of Abdominal Pain:

  • Inflammation of some abdominal part
  • Pain lasting several days
  • Unpleasant feeling resulting from injury in belly
  • Increased sensitivity of abdominal area to touch


Characterized by the abnormal growth and development of little pouch, like herniation, along the wall of alimentary canal, it most commonly occurs in the left side of the colon, which may rarely reach throat or pharynx. As many as half of the Americans who are above the age of 50, are suffering from this gastrointestinal disorder. In most of the cases, it occurs without pain, but in advanced and worsened stages, it may show severe symptoms, like acute abdominal cramping, bowel malfunction and constipation alternating with diarrhea which can be cured by laxatives, antibiotics, antispasmodic drugs and surgical therapy.

Symptoms of Diverticulitis:

  • Diarrhea and tenderness
  • Pain mostly in the lower left abdomen
  • Severe cramping in the abdomen, usually, left side
  • Fever, impaired bowel function and nausea
  • Rectal bleeding


Acute disorder is characterized by inflammation of narrow finger-like organ that branches off the cecum in the right side of abdomen which if not treated timely, may rupture and cause the death of victim. Painful and bloody urination accompanied with constipation, low fever, rapid heartbeat and abdominal swellings are some of the symptoms which can be relieved only by the surgical removal of this vestigial organ having no obvious digestive system function.

Symptoms of Appenditis:

  • Vague discomfort near navel and spreading to the lower quadrant of abdominal area
  • Long persisting sharp, localized pain
  • Constipation alternating with diarrhea
  • Fever and rapid heartbeat
  • Painful and bloody urination, etc.


Diarrhea is a commonly occurring digestive disorder, often resulting in dehydration, and if not controlled may lead to the death of the individual. It is characterized by loose, watery stools, increased frequency of bowel movements, abdominal cramping, drowsiness, and sticky, dry mouth. The treatment measures include preventive therapy, antidiarrheal medications and avoiding milk or milky products.

Symptoms of Diarrhea:

  • Loose and watery stools.
  • Increase in the frequency of bowel movements.
  • Dry, sticky mouth and tongue.
  • Drowsiness, gazed eyes and persistent crying in infants due to dehydration

Hematochezia (Rectal Bleeding)

Characterized by bleeding in stool, this disorder of both human excretory system and digestive system may be caused by diverticulosis or hemorrhoids, but the bleeding becomes potentially fatal if associated with colorectal cancer. Abdominal cramping, fatigue, fever, weakness, difficulty in breathing and fainting are some of the symptoms that can be treated by medications, chemotherapy and surgery. However, the choice of treatment strategy depends upon the particular cause of rectal bleeding, and also on the severity of the condition.

Symptoms of Hematochezia:

  • Passage of fresh blood with bowels
  • Bleeding in rectal region or anus
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Fainting
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Weakness, fever and fatigue


Cirrhosis is a hepatic disorder which interferes with the processing of nutrients, drugs, hormones, and protein synthesis due to the formation of fibrous scar tissue and progressive destruction of the liver cells. Critical symptoms include bloody stool, darkened urine, trembling hands, jaundice and mental confusion which can be cured by either antibiotics or laxatives, but in severe cases, liver transplant may also be advised by your health care provider.

Symptoms of Cirrhosis:

  • Weight loss, nausea, diarrhea and loss of appetite.
  • Weakness, exhaustion and fatigue.
  • Jaundice with appearance of small, red, spidery veins on the skin.
  • Inflammation of legs, abdomen and/or ankles
  • Testicular atrophy and enlargement of breasts in men

Crohn’s Disease

The inflammation of intestinal wall in the final portion of small bowel or colon (large bowel), Crohn’s disease often involves ulcer or abscesses formation in the deeper layers of the intestinal wall, where there is network of vessels from the human circulatory system. Also known as regional ileitis, it is characterized by spasms of abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, anal fissures, fever and fatigue. The acute or chronic symptoms can be relieved by antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, immunosuppressive drugs and surgical therapy.

Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease:

  • Cramping and spasms of abdominal pain
  • Watery diarrhea and rectal bleeding
  • Nausea, fever and fatigue
  • Loss of weight and appetite
  • Fissures in anus
  • Systemic complications include skin lesions, inflammation of eyes and joint pain

Hiatal Hernia (Hiatus Hernia)

A more common type of herniation in the gastrointestinal system, it is characterized by an opening in the diaphragm (a layer of muscles that separates chest from abdomen) by the protrusion of any part of stomach. Out of the two types of hernia, namely, paraesphageal and sliding hernia, the later is more common with the symptoms of chest pain and heartburn that can be associated with GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). The treatment measures of Hiatus Hernia are almost similar to that of GERD which may also require surgical therapy if paraesophageal hernia has reached advanced and critical stage.

Symptoms of Hiatal Hernia:

  • Vomiting and nauseated feeling.
  • Pain in chest or abdominal region.
  • Gas pain.
  • Difficulty in the passage of stool.

Colon Polyps

It is one of the bitter digestive system facts that every third individual over the age of 60 is affected with this disease. Nodular growth in the lining of colon, it is diagnosed by rectal bleeding, abdominal pain and change in bowel movements. Colon polyps, if advanced, may lead to colorectal cancer and have to be removed by surgical therapy in which a section of the colon and the nearby lymph nodes are cut off.

Symptoms of Colon Polyps:

  • Bleeding in the rectal region
  • Passage of mucus and blood with stools
  • Infrequent bowel movements
  • Pain in abdomen

Colorectal Cancer

Characterized by the growth of malignant (or cancerous) cells in the region of colon or rectum, it is one of the most common types of cancers. Such tumors grow very slowly but in advanced stages, they are enlarged enough to cause obstruction in the alimentary canal. Some of the symptoms include bloody & black stools, lower abdominal pain, loss of appetite, fatigue in different parts of muscular system and inability to pass stools which can be treated by radiation therapy or surgical removal of the affected area.

Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer:

  • Constipation, diarrhea or extremely narrow stools lasting for over 10 days.
  • Black, tarry stools containing blood.
  • Gas pains, cramping and bloating in abdomen.
  • Heart palpitation, paleness and fatigue.
  • Intestinal obstruction, making it difficult to pass stools.

Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is one of the serious digestive system diseases. The fifth leading cause of death in the US, it causes malignant growth in pear-shaped structure behind the stomach adversely affecting its function as a secretary organ. The diagnosis is usually very difficult in the early stages, and when it is finally confirmed, the chances of treatment and survival are very rare. Some of the most obvious symptoms involve shakiness, nausea, diarrhea and jaundice that can be relieved with analgesics, chemotherapy and surgical removal of the cancerous tumor.

Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer:

  • Poor appetite accompanied by weight loss.
  • Pain in the right or upper central part of abdomen.
  • Itchy skin
  • Appearance of jaundice symptoms
  • Darkening of urine, and diarrhea or constipation.
  • Vomiting, nausea and feeling of fullness.
  • Mood swings, depression and fatigue.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Associated with the regurgitation of the contents of stomach or duodenum (first segment of small intestine) into esophagus, it causes the symptoms of burning sensation, chest pain, difficulty in swallowing food or liquid. It can be cured through medication, but in severe cases (inflammation and scarring of esophagus), surgical therapy may be recommended to tighten the LES (Lower Esophageal Sphincter).

Symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERO):

  • Sensation of burning in the chest region behind the breastbone.
  • Painful swallowing of food and liquid.
  • Regurgitation of sour or bitter tasting stomach contents.
  • Chest pain caused by esophageal spasm.

Stomach Cancer

This gastric malignancy is characterized by the growth of cancerous cells in the lining of stomach. Adenocarcinomas (e.g. gastric cancers) account for about 90 percent of all the cancers of stomach. On the other hand, lymphomas, cancers of the immune system and lymphatic system account for just 3 to 7 percent. Some of the most obvious symptoms include black stools, heartburn, vomiting, nausea, weakness and difficulty in swallowing. Surgical removal is considered to be the primary treatment, but use of antibiotics, stomach acid inhibitors and radiation therapies have also proved to be very promising.

Symptoms of Stomach Cancer:

  • Pain and discomfort in stomach which cannot be relieved by the intake of antacids or soothing foods.
  • Vomiting, nausea, weight loss and poor appetite.
  • Black, bloody stools.
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding leading to anemia.
  • Belching, regurgitation and heartburn.

Gastroenteritis (Gastric Or Stomach Flu)

Caused by rotavirus in children and norovirus in adults, it involves abdominal cramping, vomiting and diarrhea. The disorder spreads through contact with the infected individuals or by the consumption of contaminated food or water, and the treatment measures include the intake of oral rehydration solutions, antibiotics, injection of intravenous fluids and antimotility medications (Not recommended in complex conditions).

Symptoms of Gastroenteritis (Gastric or Stomach Flu):

  • Loss of appetite accompanied by the feeling of sickness.
  • Stomach cramping and pain in limbs.
  • Fever and headache
  • Vomiting or nausea

The list of digestive system diseases is still incomplete as there are a number of other related disorders with varying intensities and cure rates, namely, Pancreatitis, Anal Fissure, Gallstones, Helicobacter Pylori, Liver Cancer, Intestinal Gas, Clostridium Difficile Colitis, Hepatitis C, Pernicious Anemia, Ulcerative Colitis, Celiac Disease, Esophageal Cancer, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Stool Colour and Texture Changes, Fatty Liver, Peptic Ulcer, Giardia Lamblia, Lactose Intolerance, Hepatitis B, Barrett’s Esophagus, Achalasia, Gastroparesis, Dysphagia, and so on. However, if your priorities don’t let you ignore the importance of health while you are healthy, you are the most fortunate one in this world as none of the ailments can inflict your precious organ system.

About the Author

Posted by: M. Isaac / Senior writer

A graduate in biological sciences and a PhD scholar (NCBA&E University, Lahore), M. Isaac combines his vast experience with a keen and critical eye to create practical and inherently engaging content on the human body. His background as a researcher and instructor at a secondary school enables him to best understand the needs of the beginner level learners and the amateur readers and educate them about how their body works, and how they can adopt a healthier lifestyle.

Copyrights Reserves 2013-2023 by OrgansOfTheBody.com