The gastrointestinal (GI) system goes all the way from the mouth to the anus, and for medical evaluation and treatment purposes it’s divided into two main sections: the upper and lower gastrointestinal tract. There are various ailments that can afflict the upper and/or lower GI tract.
Let’s discuss everything you need to know about the upper and lower GI tracts and the diseases associated with them.
Upper GI tract conditions
The upper GI tract is made up of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). When we eat, the food and liquid travels from our throat through our esophagus to our stomach.
The valve at the base of the esophagus, known as the lower esophageal sphincter, prevents food and stomach acids from flowing back up into our esophagus. The food you ate begins to digest and turns into a liquid in your stomach.
(If the sphincter suddenly fails, it can allow food to flow back upward into the esophagus. This causes acid reflux.)
After that, it travels from your stomach to the duodenum, where bile and digestive enzymes – which are produced by the gallbladder (with assistance from the liver and pancreas) – further break down the liquefied food. This is how your body is able to absorb the nutrients.
When there are issues with the upper GI tract, symptoms can include gas, bloating, stomach pain, and heartburn. These symptoms can be quite unpleasant, but can also be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.
Diseases of the upper GI tract
Health conditions of the upper GI tract include:
- Barrett’s esophagus
- Celiac disease
- Eosinophilic esophagitis
- Esophagitis and esophageal stricture
- Gas and bloating
- Gastroenteritis (stomach flu)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- H. pylori bacterial infection
- Hiatal hernia
- Lactose intolerance
- Peptic ulcers
- Swallowing disorders
Lower GI tract conditions
The lower GI tract consists of the small intestine, large intestine (colon), rectum, and anus. Most of the nutrients from our food are absorbed in the small intestine; what’s left in the small intestine is waste, which then travels to the large intestine.
As the waste products move through our colon, water is absorbed, and the particles become solid – which is what forms into stool.
The stool then moves into the lower part of the colon, followed by the rectum and anal canal. There, it passes out of the body as a bowel movement.
When there are issues with the lower GI tract, symptoms can include diarrhea, constipation, and hemorrhoids. These symptoms can be quite painful and should not be ignored, as they could indicate a more serious underlying condition.
Diseases of the lower GI tract
Conditions of the lower GI tract include:
- Anal fissure, abscess, and fistula
- Colon polyps
- Colon cancer
- Crohn’s disease
- Diverticulosis and diverticulitis
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Rectal bleeding
- Ulcerative colitis
How are GI diseases diagnosed?
To find out whether you have a GI condition, your gastroenterologist will perform diagnostic tests. For upper GI issues, the doctor may conduct an endoscopy or an upper GI series/barium swallow. For lower GI issues, the tests may include a colonoscopy, enteroscopy, or lower GI series/barium enema.
Treatment usually begins with recommended changes to your diet and/or lifestyle. Treatment may also include medication or surgery to help alleviate your symptoms and to improve your quality of life.
South Central Pennsylvania Gastroenterology
Our board-certified and fellowship-trained gastroenterologists at US Digestive Health have years of experience in diagnosing and treating upper and lower GI conditions. We offer comprehensive diagnosis and treatment, as well as the highest quality of care.
If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment, call us today at (717) 245-2228 or use our secure online appointment request form. We are happy to serve you – and to help you feel much, much better.