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Good digestive health is important for overall physical health. When the digestive system is not working correctly, inadequate absorption of nutrients may lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and eventually malnutrition. Many common digestive problems have similar types of gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea, constipation, flatulence, pain, and inflammation.
Most digestive disorders are minor conditions which will resolve themselves without medical treatment. Often these are the result of minor bacterial or viral infection, or are due to dietary issues such as lactose intolerance. Recurrent gastrointestinal symptoms, or acute symptoms such as severe pain, may indicate a more serious condition. Medical treatment should be sought for such symptoms.
One of the most common gastrointestinal symptoms is pain in the abdomen, commonly referred to as a stomachache. Many types of gastrointestinal disorder can cause pain, due to the presence of several digestive organs in the abdomen. In addition to the stomach and intestines, these include the gallbladder, liver, pancreas, kidneys, adrenal glands, and bladder. Abdominal pain is often caused by stress and anxiety, or a diet high in alcohol, caffeine, or fat.
Another common symptom is the presence of large amounts of gas in the gastrointestinal tract, which typically leads to flatulence. This is most often due to the ingestion of certain types of foods high in fiber and starch, which are not completely digested until they reach the intestines. These foods, including beans and certain types of fruits, vegetables, and grains, produce excess gas because they are broken down in the large intestine by gas-producing bacteria.
Nausea and vomiting are gastrointestinal symptoms which often go hand-in-hand. Nausea is a term which describes a sensation of sickness or queasiness, often felt in the throat or stomach. Feelings of nausea are often, but not always, followed by vomiting. Vomiting as a gastrointestinal symptom is usually involuntary, and is often caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Vomiting the contents of the intestines as well as of the stomach, or vomiting blood or bile, may indicate a more serious gastrointestinal problem.
Diarrhea and constipation are two gastrointestinal symptoms which have very different effects, even though they sometimes have similar causes. People who are constipated have trouble with bowel movements, and typically experience less frequent bowel movements which are hard and dry, and difficult to pass. In contrast, diarrhea results in frequent bowel movements that are loose and watery, and may be difficult to control. Both of these conditions may be caused by digestive problems such as colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, food allergies or intolerances, and inflammatory bowel disease.