According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, between 60 million and 70 million Americans suffer from gastrointestinal problems.
Gastrointestinal conditions are disorders of the digestive system. Your digestive system is a complex system responsible for breaking down food in order to absorb water and nutrients. It breaks down foods and liquids into substances the body can use for energy, growth, and tissue repair.
Gastrointestinal conditions affect your gastrointestinal (GI) tract from your mouth to your anus. When digestive issues arise, there are a range of diagnostic tests and methods your doctor can use to eliminate possible causes and understand the source of your symptoms.
This article will explore common gastrointestinal conditions and look at different types of diagnostic testing available for these conditions.
Common gastrointestinal conditions
Gastrointestinal conditions affect the GI tract from the mouth to the anus. Some of the most common gastrointestinal disorders are:
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. It can affect any part of the GI tract from the mouth to the anus, however it typically affects the end of the small bowel and the beginning of the colon. Crohn’s disease is chronic, long-term, and can be painful.
Because Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition, people living with Crohn’s disease will experience periods when their symptoms are more active. Common symptoms of Crohn’s disease can include:
- Urgent need to move bowels
- Cramps and pain
Celiac disease is a digestive and autoimmune disorder that can damage your small intestine. It occurs in genetically predisposed people, meaning it runs in families. With celiac disease, the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.
There are more than 200 symptoms associated with celiac disease. The most common symptoms are:
- Abdominal pain
- Bloating and gas
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal condition that affects your large intestine. With IBS, your colon muscle contracts less than “normal”. It causes recurrent attacks of abdominal pain and discomfort during bowel movements.
The key symptom of IBS is pain or discomfort in the abdomen. Other symptoms can include:
- Change of bowel habits (more frequent or less frequent)
- Mucus in the stool
- Gas pains
Colon polyps are clumps of cells that form a mass inside the colon. Though most colon polyps are harmless, some can turn into colon cancer within five to 15 years after their formation. Many people with colon polyps may not have any symptoms, however those who do have symptoms may experience:
- Abdominal pain
- A change in bowel habits
SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth)
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) occurs when there is an abnormal bacteria in the small intestine. SIBO can cause chronic diarrhea and malabsorption. Other symptoms of SIBO include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
How are gastrointestinal conditions diagnosed?
Diagnostic tests and procedures can range from invasive to non-invasive. Diagnostic testing can help healthcare professionals learn more about the causes, symptoms, and severity of different gastrointestinal conditions.
Some of the most common lab tests to check on your gastrointestinal health are:
Fecal occult blood test
A fecal occult blood test is a lab test used to check for hidden (occult) blood in the stool. Blood in the stool can indicate colon cancer or polyps in the colon and rectum.
Stool culture analysis
A stool analysis can help assess the overall health of your gastrointestinal tract. It can help analyze digestion, absorption of nutrients, and more. A stool analysis can check for gastrointestinal conditions such as IBS, Crohn’s disease, malabsorption, and indigestion.
Blood tests can be used to check on your gastrointestinal health. Blood tests can check on tissue damage and inflammation. Inflammation can be due to gastrointestinal conditions, such as celiac disease and Crohn’s disease. If you’re experiencing issues with your gastrointestinal health, a blood test will probably be recommended by your doctor.
There are a series of breath tests doctors use to diagnose certain gastrointestinal conditions. These can include:
- Bacterial overgrowth breath test: used to diagnose SIBO.
- Fructose breath test: used to evaluate the presence of fructose malabsorption, which can lead to cramping, diarrhea, and bloating.
- Pylori breath test: used to detect a bacteria called helicobacter pylori, which can cause gastrointestinal disease and increase your risk of gastric cancer.
- Lactose breath test: used to diagnose a lactose intolerance.
Who is at risk for gastrointestinal disorders and diseases?
Gastrointestinal conditions can be present due to many reasons. Common causes of gastrointestinal conditions include:
- Low fiber diet
- Not drinking enough water
- Genetic factors
- Inactive lifestyle
The bottom line
There are many other gastrointestinal diseases. Other diseases include gastritis, gallstones, indigestion, short bowel syndrome, gastroenteritis, and more.
We offer a range of diagnostic testing for gastrointestinal conditions. Talk to your doctor today to see which test is right for you.