Diseases and disorders

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and constipation are common symptoms and their basic pathophysiology illustrates important aspects of gastrointestinal function.

Gastrointestinal symptoms are frequently not associated with any discernible pathological abnormality. These medically unexplained symptoms are often labelled functional disorders and, as our understanding of gastrointestinal physiology becomes more sophisticated, we may discover new explanations and treatments that are more effective.

Gastrointestinal system infections are common and are associated with significant morbidity and mortality worldwide. They range from self-limiting food poisoning to life-threatening local and systemic infections. Even peptic ulceration is most frequently caused by infection, with the Helicobacter pylori bacterium.

For some major diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease, the aetiological agent has not been identified, despite rapidly advancing genetic and molecular research. Conversely, coeliac disease, another serious and common gastrointestinal inflammatory disease, is caused by a well-characterized immune response to wheat-derived proteins.

Colon cancer is a major cause of cancer-related death and our molecular and cellular understanding of its pathogenesis, and the pathophysiol-ogy of other gastrointestinal, pancreatic and liver tumours, is rapidly increasing.

Liver damage is often caused by infections or drugs and may be acute or chronic. Acute liver disease can rapidly progress to liver failure, or can resolve, either spontaneously or with appropriate treatment. Chronic liver disease may cause cirrhosis, which is characterized by a variety of signs and symptoms and changes throughout the body, including the effects of hepatic portal venous hypertension.

The gastrointestinal system is essential to nutrition, and disordered nutrition is a major issue worldwide - both through undernutrition and starvation and through overnutrition, which causes obesity, possibly the single most important modern health problem in the affluent world.

Diagnosis and treatment

Clinical assessment, including a focused history and examination, is the foundation of diagnosis. In addition, the gastrointestinal system can be investigated by endoscopy, radiology and specific functional tests. Endoscopy and radiology may also be used therapeutically, and phar-macotherapy and surgery for gastrointestinal disorders exploit many unique features of the structure and function of the system.

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Get Rid of Gallstones Naturally

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