GI/Digestive Disease Definitions

GI/Digestive Disease Definitions

Barrett’s esophagus – The abnormal growth of intestinal-type cells at the end of the esophagus that marks the border between the cells of the esophagus and those of the stomach. Patients with Barrett’s usually have symptoms similar to those produced by chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), such as heartburn and reflux of stomach acid into the mouth.

Celiac disease – A digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of food nutrients. People with celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, a protein in wheat, rye and barley.

Cirrhosis of the liver – A condition in which the liver slowly deteriorates and malfunctions due to chronic injury. Scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue, partially blocking the flow of blood through the liver. Too much scar tissue means that your liver cannot work properly. To live, you need a liver that works.

Colon polyps – A fleshy growth on the inside (the lining) of the large intestine, also known as the colon. Since patients with a history of colon polyps often redevelop polyps, periodic checkups (colonoscopies) are recommended.

Crohn’s disease – A chronic inflammatory disease of the intestines that primarily causes ulcerations (breaks in the lining) of the small and large intestines, but can affect the digestive system anywhere from the mouth to the anus. The most common symptoms are abdominal pain, often in the lower right area, and diarrhea. Rectal bleeding, weight loss, arthritis, skin problems and fever may also occur.

Diverticulosis/diverticulitis – Diverticulitis is a condition in which diverticuli (small bulging sacs pushing outward from the colon wall) rupture and infect the tissues surrounding the colon. The condition of having diverticula in the colon is called diverticulosis. Symptoms of diverticulosis include cramps or discomfort in the lower abdomen, bloating, and constipation. The most common symptom of diverticulitis is abdominal pain.

Esophageal cancer – A cancer that forms in the esophagus, a tube which moves food from the mouth to the stomach.  It is uncommon in the United States. Factors that cause irritation in the cells of your esophagus and increase your risk of esophageal cancer include alcohol, chewing tobacco, obesity and smoking.

Esophagitis – Inflammation of the esophagus, the soft tube-like portion of the digestive tract connecting the pharynx (hollow tube extending from behind the nose to the top of the windpipe) with the stomach. Left untreated, this condition can become very uncomfortable, causing problems with swallowing, ulcers, and scarring of the esophagus.

Gallstone disease – A disease of the gallbladder. Gallstones are formed from either cholesterol or pigment (bilirubin, which is the byproduct of the breakdown of haemoglobin, a component in red blood cells).

Gastroenteritis – An infection caused by a variety of viruses that result in vomiting or diarrhea.  Although often referred to as “stomach flu,” it is not caused by the influenza virus. 

Gastrointestinal bleeding – An abnormal condition in which there is blood or bleeding that appears with vomiting, from the throat, from the rectum, or blood that accompanies or is mixed with feces. It is a symptom of a wide variety of conditions, including peptic ulcer, intestinal polyps, diverticula, inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal infections and constipation.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – Chronic symptoms or mucus membrane damage produced by the abnormal reflux of stomach acid to the esophagus. Typical symptoms include heartburn, regurgitation (return of partly digested food from the stomach to the mouth) and trouble swallowing.

Gastroparesis – A condition that delays the stomach from emptying food into the small intestine. It is caused by damage to the vagus nerve, which regulates the digestive system, preventing the muscles in the stomach and intestine from functioning, and food from moving through the digestive system properly. The most common cause is diabetes.

Helicobacter pylori – Bacterium that can inhabit various areas of the stomach. This can cause a chronic low-level inflammation of the stomach lining and is strongly linked to development of duodenal and gastric ulcers, and stomach cancer.

Hemochromatosis (iron overload) – An inherited disorder in how the body absorbs and stores iron. The excess iron gives the skin a bronze color and damages the liver and other organs.

Hemorrhoids – The veins around the lower anus or rectum that are swollen and inflamed. The most common symptom of internal hemorrhoids is bright red blood covering the stool, on toilet paper, or in the toilet bowl. Symptoms of external hemorrhoids may include painful swelling or a hard lump around the anus that results when a blood clot forms.

Hepatitis A, B, and C – Swelling of the liver that makes it stop working well and can lead to scarring, called cirrhosis, or to cancer. The type of hepatitis is named for the virus that causes it; for example, hepatitis A, hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Like all viruses, hepatitis is contagious. Flu-like symptoms are common with all three forms of hepatitis.

Hiatal hernia – An abnormality in the body in which part of the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm and up into the chest. Usually, a small hiatal hernia doesn’t cause problems, and you may never know you have one. But a large hiatal hernia can allow food and acid to back up into your esophagus, leading to heartburn and chest pain.

Intestinal malabsorption – Defective or inadequate absorption of nutrients from the intestinal tract. Symptoms include abdominal pain, gas and bloating.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – A disorder commonly characterized by cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. Although painful, it does not lead to a serious disease, such as cancer.

Liver cancer (hepatoma) – Cancer originating in the live, in liver cells. Symptoms include losing weight without trying; loss of appetite; upper abdominal pain; nausea and vomiting;
general weakness and fatigue; enlarged liver; abdominal swelling.

Liver tumors – Tumors or growths on or in the liver that can be either cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign). Symptoms include abdominal pain weight loss; nausea; vomiting; a large mass that can be felt in the upper, right part of abdomen; fever; and jaundice – yellowing of the skin and eyes.

Pancreatic cancer & pancreatic tumors – Pancreatic cancer (also called endocrine cancer) is a malignant (cancerous) tumor in the pancreas. Pancreatic endocrine tumors develop from the types of pancreatic cells that produce hormones. These tumors may or may not secrete hormones themselves and may or may not be cancerous. Signs and symptoms may not appear until pancreatic cancer is quite advanced and surgical removal isn’t possible.

Pancreatitis – Inflammation of the pancreas.  It can be acute or chronic, both of which are serious. In severe cases, bleeding, infection and permanent tissue damage may occur.

Peptic Ulcer disease (duodenal & gastric) – A sore in the lining of the stomach (gastric) or upper small intestine (duodenum). Ulcers form when the intestine’s or stomach’s protective layer is broken down, allowing the digestive juices to damage them.

Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) & primary billiary cirrhosis (PBC)  – PSC is a chronic, progressive disease of the bile ducts that channel bile from the liver into the intestines. It leads to progressive destruction and blockage of the bile ducts and inability of the liver to secrete bile into the intestines. PBC is a chronic disease characterized by progressive inflammation and destruction of the small bile ducts within the liver.  It is usually diagnosed in patients between 35 and 60 years old, 90-95 percent of whom are women.

Postcholecystectomy syndrome (diarrhea) – Describes the presence of abdominal symptoms after surgical removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy). Symptoms include gastrointestinal distress and persistent pain in the upper right abdomen.

Screening for colon cancer – Looking for cancer or polyps when patients don’t have symptoms. Finding colorectal cancer before symptoms develop dramatically improves the chance of survival.

Stomach cancer – A disease in which stomach cells become malignant (cancerous) and grow out of control, forming a tumor. Risk factors include helicobacter pylori infection (see definition), long-term stomach inflammation, smoking, family history, poor diet, lack of physical activity or obesity.

Ulcerative colitis – A chronic inflammation of the large intestine (colon). Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea and rectal bleeding.


Page last updated on Sep. 24, 2010