Most people will experience gastrointestinal problems of some kind at least once. These types of disorders affect one or more structures in the digestive system, which includes the esophagus, stomach, intestines, colon, and rectum. Common problems include constipation, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, gastroenteritis, colitis, and irritable bowel disorders.
The most common gastrointestinal problems — diarrhea and constipation — are common symptoms of many digestive disorders, but may also occur without an underlying disease. In such cases, these are often caused by stress, inadequate exercise, routine changes, or medication. Both diarrhea and constipation may also be caused by dietary changes or inadequacies. Diarrhea, for example, may occur in people who eat too much fiber or who are allergic to certain foods, while constipation can result from too little fiber or from overeating dairy products.
Diarrhea and constipation may also signify the presence of a more serious digestive disorder. For example, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may cause one or both of these symptoms, in addition to abdominal pain, bloating, and gas. Many people with IBS benefit from increasing the amount of fiber they eat, avoiding foods that trigger symptoms, and reducing stress.
Hemorrhoids are a common problem that may result from chronic diarrhea or constipation. These swollen blood vessels form due to chronic pressure exerted during strained bowel movements. They may form inside or outside the rectum. When outside they lie just under the skin, and may burst and form a blood clot. If located inside the rectum, they may bleed and become inflamed and irritated. People with hemorrhoids can help alleviate these problems by stabilizing their bowel habits to reduce the amount of straining they do. An improved diet, with the right amount of fiber, is another useful way to manage this problem.
Gastroenteritis and colitis are inflammatory gastrointestinal problems in which sections of the digestive tract become chronically inflamed. In colitis, for example, the bowel becomes irritated and inflamed, leading to abdominal cramping, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, and irregular bowel habits. These digestive disorders may have a variety of causes. For example, the disorder may be caused by an infectious agent, stomach ulcers, a side effect of radiation treatment for cancer, or a symptom of reduced blood supply to the affected area.
Colon polyps are a benign gastrointestinal disorder, but they may become cancerous if left untreated. Most cases of colon cancer begin as a benign polyp, a small growth of skin that forms in the colon or rectum. Only a relatively small proportion can turn cancerous, but the polyps themselves are common. Colon cancer can spread quickly if a precancerous growth is not removed. In most cases, the removal can prevent cancer from occurring at that spot.