Conditions We Treat

What are Gastrointestinal Diseases?

The gastrointestinal (GI) system is responsible for digestion and allows food and liquid to be broken down enough for nutrients to be absorbed and allocated throughout the body. The GI system consists of the esophagus, liver, stomach, small and large intestines, gallbladder, and pancreas. GI diseases generally affect more women than men. The most common GI diseases are gastroesophageal reflux disease, cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, and hiatal hernia.

GI diseases occur when normal digestion is disrupted, and this disruption can be caused by structural issues in the GI system or when there are no known organic causes for disease. There are two types of GI diseases: functional GI diseases and structural GI diseases.

Functional GI diseases

Functional GI diseases are the most common GI issues the digestive tract experience. Functional GI diseases occur when the digestive tract is not functioning or moving appropriately, but everything tests normal when examined. The most common functional GI diseases are constipation, gas, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, food poisoning, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and GERD.

Structural GI diseases

Structural GI diseases occur when examination and test results show abnormalities and poor functioning in your digestive system. The most common structural GI diseases include strictures, stenosis, hemorrhoids, diverticular disease, colon polyps, colon cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease. In certain cases, the structural abnormality needs to be surgically removed.

Signs and Symptoms

Gastrointestinal diseases (GID) have a wide range of symptoms. Common symptoms of GID include:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Abdominal pain or cramps
  • Fecal incontinence (not being able to control bowel movements, which can lead to involuntary leakage)
  • Unexplained or unintentional weight loss
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Changes in appetite


Causes for GID vary and sometimes there may be no known cause. The most common causes include:

  • Family history
  • Aging
  • Consuming too much dairy
  • Genetics
  • Inactive lifestyle
  • A diet low in fiber
  • Stress
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Central nervous system processing issues
  • GI systems that move too slow or too fast
  • Anxiety and depression

Risk Factors

There are several risk factors for developing GI diseases. Common risk factors include:

  • Eating a diet low in fiber
  • Not exercising enough
  • Eating too much dairy
  • Stress
  • Traveling or being outside of your normal routine
  • Overusing anti-diarrheal medications (weakens the bowel muscle movements)
  • Resisting the urge to have a bowel movement (i.e., when you have hemorrhoids)
  • Antacid medications that contain calcium or aluminum
  • Certain medications (antidepressants, strong pain medications, or iron pills)
  • Pregnancy


Diagnosing gastrointestinal disorders requires careful examination and testing to rule out other conditions before determining the specific GID diagnosis. Typically, a doctor will take a thorough history, conduct a physical examination, ask about current and past symptoms, and will gather information regarding diet and lifestyle choices. This information will help determine what tests are required to make an accurate diagnosis. Common tests include:

  • Colonoscopy
  • Upper GI endoscopy
  • Capsule endoscopy
  • Endoscopic ultrasound
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography
  • Laboratory tests (blood, urine, stool samples)
  • Imaging tests (x-rays, MRI’s, CT scans)

It is important to consult with your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of GID, especially if symptoms have lasted several days and are impacting your daily life or preventing you from doing normal activities.


Treatment for gastrointestinal diseases varies depending on the type, cause, and severity. Typically, diet and lifestyle changes may be the first line of defense. However, for more severe or chronic diseases, medication and pain management interventions may be required. Common examples of medications include:

  • Antibiotics (for bacterial infections)
  • Antacids
  • Antidiarrheals
  • Laxatives or stool softeners
  • Antidepressants (can help with symptoms of IBS)
  • Antianxiety medication
  • Medication that reduces inflammation in the colon


While not every gastrointestinal disease is preventable, certain symptoms can be mitigated by making specific dietary and lifestyle changes. Common prevention measures for GID’s include:

  • Adding fruits and vegetables to your diet
  • Getting enough fiber in your diet
  • Staying hydrated (drinking more water)
  • Quality sleep
  • Stress reduction
  • Consistent light to moderate exercise