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Gastrointestinal Health Center

Gastrointestinal Health Basics

The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is the system our body uses to ingest, breakdown and utilize food in order to feed the body and support energy needs.

What the GI Does

The GI tract is a complex system of organs that starts at the mouth and ends at the anus. It is a processing plant for food that depends upon the proper function of the entire system.

Here are a few facts to understand the GI system:

  • It is a tube about 30 feet long consisting of a system of hollow organs.
  • The organs include: esophagus, stomach, intestines (small and large), liver, pancreas, gallbladder and liver. Each organ has a specific function in digestion.
  • Motility throughout the GI tract is critical as is the body's ability to produce adequate amounts of bile and pancreatic juices along the way in order to breakdown food and aid digestion.

There are two basic forms of GI disorders, functional and structural. Functional disorders are those in which the intestines look normal but do not function properly: constipation or irritable bowel syndrome. Structural disorders are those in which the intestines look abnormal and they do not function properly: hemorrhoids, anal fissures or diverticular disease.

Who Is Affected by GI Disorders?

The various GI disorders can affect different patient populations. There are several disorders that are more prevalent in some populations than in others.

  • Some type of GI disorder affects one in five Americans.
  • Women are more often affected than men.
  • Diverticular disease is very common, especially as a person ages. 10% of people over age 40 and 50% of people over age 60 have an element of the disease.
  • Colorectal cancer is the second most common form of cancer in the United States. There are 130,000 people diagnosed each year.
  • Gallstones are often linked to a family history. They are more common in people over 40 years old, especially women with Native American or Hispanic heritage.
  • Stomach ulcers affect 4 million people every year. Over their lifetime, 20 million Americans will have at least one clinically proven ulcer.

Concerns

The vast number of commonly treated GI disorders range from simple heartburn to colorectal cancer or pancreatitis. Preventive screening for colorectal cancer with a colonoscopy is critical, as coordinated with the primary care physician. Diagnosing and treating acute onset and persistent GI symptoms early is important to overall health and wellness.

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