The human digestive system is a system of organs and glands that processes the food we eat. When the system works as it should, we can eat food and digest its nutrients to provide our bodies with the energy and nutrition we need. However, some diseases get in the way of this process and can pose significant health risks. If you're having difficulty digesting food or are experiencing ongoing digestive problems, you should consult a physician or other health care provider for medical advice.
One digestive system disease that affects the body's ability to process food is gastroparesis, also known as delayed gastric emptying. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, a service of the National Institutes of Health, gastroparesis causes the stomach to take too long to empty its contents. This causes the food to move more slowly through the digestive tract or even stop moving completely, halting the digestive process. Symptoms of gastroparesis include heartburn, abdominal bleeding, stomach spasms, upper abdomen pain and weight loss.
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Crohn's disease is a bowel disease that causes inflammation of the digestive tract. The disease causes the intestinal walls to excrete higher volumes of salt and water, leading to diarrhea. With the excess fluid and evacuated material, the body does not have enough time to properly digest food, and people with Crohn's disease can develop malnutrition. Other symptoms of Crohn's include abdominal pain, bloody stool, ulcers, and reduced appetite and weight loss. There is no cure for Crohn's disease, but drugs are available to help alleviate symptoms.
Celiac disease is another digestive system disease that affects a person's ability to digest food. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, celiac disease cases damage to the small intestines, thus reducing a person's ability to digest food and absorb nutrition. People with the disease cannot digest gluten, a protein commonly found in grains such as wheat and barley. The disease, which can present symptoms such as weight loss, constipation and vomiting, affects about one in 133 Americans.
Pancreatitis, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, is an inflammation of the pancreas, an organ that is very important to food digestion. The pancreas produces bile, insulin and glocogen, each of which plays an important role in the body's ability to digest food and use food energy. People with pancreatitis can experience symptoms including a swollen abdomen, fever, nausea and rapid pulse. Treatment typically requires hospitalization and intravenous treatment with antibiotics.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.