The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is a tube stretching from the head to the end of the body and includes the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. The salivary glands, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas are also important parts of this system. The main purpose of the GI tract is to break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into molecules small enough to be absorbed through cell membranes. Every section of the GI tract is prone to its own unique disorders--some merely annoying, others potentially fatal. Fortunately, for all but a few we now have simple treatments that will, at the very least, relieve the symptoms.
Each year, millions of Americans are diagnosed with digestive disorders, ranging from the occasional upset stomach to the more life-threatening colorectal cancer. They encompass disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, as well as the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas.
Most digestive diseases are very complex, with subtle symptoms, and the causes of many remain unknown. They may be inherited, or develop from multiple factors such as stress, fatigue, diet, or smoking. Abusing alcohol imposes the greatest risk for digestive diseases. Reaching a diagnosis requires a thorough and accurate medical history and physical examination. Some patients may need to undergo more extensive diagnostic evaluations, including lab tests, endoscopic procedures, and imaging techniques.
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