Gastrointestinal Conditions, Diseases, and Symptoms
Our specialists work together to diagnose and manage gastrointestinal conditions. Expand a section below to learn more.
Acid reflux is also called heartburn, which refers to the burning sensation caused by stomach acids flowing back (refluxing) into the esophagus. Recurrent and severe acid reflux can progress to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Barrett’s esophagus is a pre-cancerous change of the lining of the esophagus from thin, flat cells (squamous cells) to a taller type of cell (columnar cells), which has a high rate of developing into cancer. Endoscopies and biopsies are performed every six months to watch for further deterioration into unusual, but not cancerous, cells (dysplasia). When severe dysplasia is present, the esophagus is surgically removed and replaced.
C. difficile infection
The GI tract contains thousands of different bacteria and other microorganisms that are essential to maintaining health. Antibiotics can disrupt the balance of these bacteria, allowing Clostridium difficile (or C. diff) to flourish and sometimes become difficult to treat. An effective treatment is fecal transplantation when standard therapies have failed. Fecal transplantation involves transferring the necessary (good) microorganisms from a healthy donor into a patient with C. difficile infection. These bacteria then begin to grow in the patient’s colon and prevent C. difficile from overgrowing again.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged from eating gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. In untreated celiac disease, the intestinal lining becomes inflamed and nutrients are not properly absorbed.
The pancreas, a large organ located behind the stomach, produces hormones necessary to digest food and convert it to energy the body can use to function properly. The pancreas is also part of the endocrine system, producing and releasing insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin regulates glucose and sugar levels in the body, and problems with insulin production can lead to diabetes.
Chronic pancreatitis is a constant or intermittent inflammation of the pancreas that lasts over a long period of time. It can result in organ damage if not treated. Acute pancreatitis is a sudden inflammation that lasts for a short period of time and may resolve without treatment.
Constipation and diarrhea
What is considered a normal bowel movement varies greatly. Three times a week may be normal for one person, and three times a day for another. Constipation is when you experience discomfort or pain from lack of bowel movements that lasts for several days. Diarrhea should resolve within a day or two, especially with over-the-counter medication. If either condition persists, see your doctor to ensure that the change in bowel function does not indicate a more serious condition.
Esophageal cancer is a malignant tumor located anywhere along the esophagus. The first sign is usually pain with swallowing or difficulty swallowing. It is diagnosed by an upper endoscopy, during which a biopsy is taken if a tumor is seen. Treatment depends on tumor stage and may involve surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or some combination.
Fecal incontinence is the inability to hold a bowel movement until you get to a toilet. It can be caused by childbirth-related injury to anal muscles or nerves, by age-related weakening of anal muscles, or by neurological diseases such as severe stroke, advanced dementia, or spinal cord injury.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
GERD is a very common condition in which the valve at the junction of the esophagus and the stomach does not work properly. This valve, known as the lower esophageal sphincter, opens when we swallow food to allow it to pass into the stomach, and closes to prevent stomach acids from refluxing back into the esophagus.
The acids injure the lining of the esophagus and cause discomfort or pain. Left untreated, this can lead to damage of the esophagus and may result in Barrett’s esophagus or cancer. For most people, medications can neutralize the acid, allowing the esophagus to heal. In some cases, surgery is required to repair the valve.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
The two most common types of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis:
- Crohn’s disease is characterized by a chronic inflammatory process that may affect any segment of the gastrointestinal tract and usually extends through all layers of the intestinal wall. Crohn’s disease can range from mild to severe. Although there is no cure, it is usually well controlled with medication and lifestyle changes.
- Ulcerative colitis is characterized by continuous inflammation confined to the large intestine. Inflammation is limited primarily to the lining and does not extend through all layers. Currently, no medical cure exists for ulcerative colitis, but effective medical treatment can suppress the inflammatory process, permit healing of the colon, and relieve the symptoms.
Irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects the lower gastrointestinal tract: the small intestine, large intestine, and colon. Symptoms of IBS include stomach pain or cramps, gas and bloating, and changes in bowel function, such as diarrhea or constipation. IBS is a long-term, chronic condition. However, it does not lead to cancer.
Pancreatic cysts are fluid-filled sacs in the pancreas that can be benign (pseudocysts, serous cyst adenoma) or pre-cancerous (mucinous cystic tumors and intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms). Large pancreatic cysts should be removed, as well as any cyst at risk of becoming cancerous.
Pelvic floor disorders
Swallowing disorders related to the esophagus
Esophageal conditions such as achalasia and esophageal spasms can cause difficulties with swallowing food and liquids. These problems typically result from faulty function of or damage to nerves in the esophagus.