The digestive system is made up of the gastrointestinal tract (GI), liver, pancreas, and gallbladder and helps the body digest food. Digestion is important for breaking down food into nutrients, which the body uses for energy, growth, and cell repair. GI disorders interfere with the body’s ability to process foods. Many factors may upset the GI tract and its ability to keep moving, including genetic and environmental causes, autoimmune disorders, medications, stress, changes in routines, and engaging in behaviors such as eating a diet low in fiber or high in dairy, not getting enough exercise, overusing laxatives, and resisting the urge to have a bowel movement.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are two types of GI disorders: Functional and structural. Functional disorders are disorders in the which GI tract looks normal but does not work properly and are the most common problems affecting the GI tract. Structural GI disorders are those where the bowel may look abnormal and does not work properly. Examples of GI disorders include:
- Crohn’s disease is a chronic disease that causes inflammation and irritation in the GI tract. The most common symptoms are diarrhea, weight loss, and pain in the abdomen. Doctors are not sure what causes Crohn’s disease and may use a combination of tests and a person’s medical and family history to diagnose Crohn’s disease. Treatments for Crohn’s disease include medications, bowel rest, and surgery.
- Ulcerative colitis, a type of chronic inflammatory disease, causes inflammation and sores, or ulcers, on the inner lining of the large intestine. Often, it begins gradually, may become worse over time, and symptoms may be mild to severe. Most people have periods when symptoms disappear (remission) that can last for weeks or years. The cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown, but researchers believe that an overactive intestinal immune system, genes, and environment may all play roles. Ulcerative colitis may be diagnosed by a healthcare provider with lab tests, physical exam, medical and family history, and endoscopies of the large intestine. Treatments for ulcerative colitis include medications and surgery.
- Celiac disease is a digestive disorder that damages the small intestine and may cause long-term digestive problems, keeping people with this GI disorder from getting the nutrients they need. People with Celiac disease cannot eat gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. People with Celiac disease may experience digestive symptoms, which are more common in children, or in other parts of their bodies. Some people with Celiac disease do not experience any symptoms. Doctors may diagnose Celiac disease with a medical and family history, a physical exam, blood tests, and intestinal and skin biopsies. Treatments for celiac disease include a gluten-free diet and meeting with a dietician to learn how to avoid gluten while following a healthy and nutritious diet.
Do you have a GI disorder? Do you have questions about the Americans with Disabilities Act and GI disorders? Contact your Regional ADA Center to learn more about your rights and responsibilities under the ADA. If you would like to learn more about GI disorders, please contact NARIC’s information specialists.