Gastrointestinal inflammation is an immune response in the digestive tract that can cause symptoms like nausea, cramping, and diarrhea. A doctor may use a specific diagnostic term like colitis, referring to inflammation in the bowel, to discuss a patient’s case. There are a number of reasons for patients to experience this common medical problem. Testing can explore some possible explanations and help the medical provider develop some treatment recommendations to help the patient resolve the issue. These may involve an assortment of options including medications, lifestyle modifications, and complementary medicine like acupuncture or massage.
Some examples of gastrointestinal inflammation can include gastritis, esophagitis, and colitis, all named for different parts of the digestive tract. In the involved area, large numbers of white blood cells are present to counter a perceived threat to the body. They can cause swelling, redness, tenderness, and irritation, while extreme inflammation can form lesions which may bleed. Patients with gastrointestinal inflammation may notice symptoms like mucus and blood in the stool, trouble swallowing, loss of appetite, and abdominal discomfort.
Infections can be a potential cause. As microorganisms move in, the immune system responds by dispatching white blood cells and chemicals to the area to kill or contain them. This response persists until the infection resolves, which may take days to weeks, unless the patient receives treatment to address it more quickly. Other patients can develop autoimmune conditions where the body starts attacking itself, treating its own cells as a threat.
Some diseases can cause gastrointestinal inflammation as a potential side effect. People with acid reflux, for example, often develop inflammation in the esophagus caused by chronic irritation with stomach acid. Genetic conditions may interfere with the production of mucus, enzymes, and other components of the digestive tract, which can also contribute to the development of pain and irritation. Symptoms may manifest shortly after birth as a baby’s digestive tract struggles to adapt.
Treatment options for gastrointestinal inflammation can include antibiotics to kill infectious organisms, steroids to manage immune responses, and probiotic medications to promote digestion. Some patients may require surgery to remove badly damaged tissue. This condition can become chronic, in which case the patient may need repeat followups, surgeries, and other procedures to monitor it and provide prompt treatment when new symptoms occur. Management tools like dietary modifications can also be considered to control outbreaks of gastrointestinal inflammation and keep the patient as comfortable as possible.