Digestive symptoms include a wide variety of symptoms that affect the digestive or gastrointestinal system. The gastrointestinal system includes the throat, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, anus, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder. Digestive symptoms can be due to a wide variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders and conditions. They can occur in all age groups and populations.

Common Digestive Problems or Disorders:

    • Acute Pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis usually begins with a sharp, severe pain in the upper abdomen that may last for a few hours or a few days.

Symptoms include:

Constant pain in the upper abdomen, in the back and other areas Pain may be sudden and intense or may begin as a mild pain that is aggravated by eating and drinking

      • Elevated pulse
      • Fever
      • Nausea and vomiting
      • Swollen and tender abdomen
    • Cholangiocarcinoma

Cholangiocarcinoma is a rare cancer found in the tissue of the bile ducts. Tumors produce symptoms by blocking the bile ducts.

Symptoms include:

      • Clay colored stools
      • Jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin and eyes
      • Itching
      • Abdominal pain that may extend to the back
      • Loss of appetite
      • Unexplained weight loss
      • Fever
      • Chills
    • Chronic Pancreatitis

Most people with chronic pancreatitis experience pain in the back and abdomen. In some cases, abdominal pain goes away as the condition advances, probably because the pancreas is no longer making digestive enzymes

Weight loss is often a symptom of chronic pancreatitis because the body does not secrete enough pancreatic enzymes to break down food and nutrients are not absorbed normally. Poor digestion leads to excretion of fat, protein and sugar in the stool. If the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas have been damaged, diabetes may develop.

    • Constipation

Although bowel movement frequency varies greatly for each person, if more than three days pass without a bowel movement, the contents in the intestines may harden, making it difficult or even painful to pass. Straining during bowel movements or the feeling of incomplete emptying also may be considered constipation.

Constipation is a symptom, not a disease, and can be caused by many factors. The most common are poor diet and lack of exercise. Other causes include irritable bowel syndrome, pregnancy, laxative abuse, travel, specific diseases, hormonal disturbances, loss of body salts and nerve damage. A variety of medications also can cause constipation, such as pain medications, especially narcotics, antacids that contain aluminum, antispasmodic drugs, antidepressant drugs, tranquilizers, iron supplements, anticonvulsants for epilepsy, antiparkinsonism drugs and antihypertensive calcium channel blockers.

Each individual may experience symptoms of constipation differently. However, some of the most common symptoms include:

      • The inability to have a bowel movement for several days or passing hard, dry stools
      • Abdominal bloating, cramps or pain
      • Decreased appetite
      • Lethargy
    • Crohn’s Disease

Common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include the following:

      • Loose, watery or frequent bowel movements
      • Abdominal cramps and pain
      • Fever
      • Rectal bleeding
      • Loss of appetite and subsequent weight loss

During periods of active symptoms, you also may experience:

      • Fatigue
      • Joint pain
      • Skin problems
      • Fissures, or tears in the lining of the anus
      • Fistulas, a tunnel that connects the intestine to the bladder, vagina or skin
      • Oral or skin lesions
    • Diarrhea

Diarrhea can be described as an abnormal increase in the frequency, volume or liquidity of your stools. The condition usually lasts a few hours to a couple of days. Diarrhea is typically associated with abdominal cramps.

The most common causes of diarrhea include:

      • Viruses
      • Bacteria
      • Parasites
    • Enterocutaneous Fistula

Enterocutaneous fistulas (ECFs) can cause contents of the intestines or stomach to leak through a wound or opening in the skin. It also can cause:

      • Dehydration
      • Diarrhea
      • Malnutrition
    • Gallstones

Many people do not experience any symptoms and are said to have “silent gallstones.” Often the gallstones are found when a test is performed to evaluate some other problem. Treatment is only recommended if a person actually experiences symptoms of the condition.

A severe and steady pain in the upper abdomen or right side is the most common symptom of gallstones. The pain, which also may affect the shoulder blades or right shoulder, lasts anywhere from several minutes to hours. In addition, you may experience sweating or vomiting.

In its more advanced and severe stages, gallstones can cause prolonged pain and infection of the gallbladder. Stones that have passed into the bile duct usually result in pain, fever and jaundice, which is yellow discoloration of the eyes and skin.

    • Gastroparesis

Symptoms of gastroparesis range from mild to severe and commonly include:

      • Nausea
      • Vomiting
      • An early feeling of fullness when eating
      • Weight loss
      • Abdominal bloating
      • Abdominal discomfort
    • Heartburn

Heartburn is a burning pain in the lower breastbone that may travel toward your neck. It also is associated with regurgitation of food and liquid into your mouth and a bitter or acidic taste.

Heartburn, also known as acid indigestion, is actually a common symptom of an underlying condition called gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) or acid reflux. In addition to heartburn, symptoms of GERD may include:

      • Persistent sore throat
      • Hoarseness
      • Chronic cough
      • Asthma
      • Chest pain
      • Feeling like there is a lump in your throat
    • Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) include:

      • Abdominal pain
      • Bloating
      • Constipation
      • Diarrhea
      • Abnormal stool frequency, form and passage
      • Some patients with IBS experience alternating diarrhea and constipation. Mucus also may be present around or within the stool.
    • Obesity

Obesity is a complex and chronic disease with many causes. It is not simply a result of overeating. Research has shown that genetics can play a significant role in determining a person’s body weight, particularly for morbidly obese people. Diet and exercise may have a limited ability to provide effective, long-term relief for obese people.

Factors such as the environment, metabolism, eating disorders and certain medical conditions also may contribute to obesity.


Research has shown that a person’s genes play an important role in their tendency to gain weight. Just as some genes determine eye color or height, others affect appetite, ability to feel full or satisfied, metabolism, fat-storing ability and even natural activity levels.

    • Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis

In the early stages of primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), you may not experience any symptoms at all. As the disease progresses, symptoms may come and go and are caused by the bile not being drained properly. This can affect liver function and cause the bile to seep into your bloodstream. Symptoms may include:

      • Chronic fatigue
      • Jaundice, yellowing of the skin and eyes
      • Loss of appetite
      • Weight loss
      • Chronic fatigue
      • Chills
      • Fever
      • Upper abdominal tenderness
    • Ulcer

If you have a peptic ulcer, you may only experience very mild symptoms or none at all. However, abdominal discomfort is the most common symptom associated with ulcers. Other symptoms include:

    • Weight loss
    • Poor appetite
    • Loss of appetite
    • Burping
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting


Tests for digestive problems can include colonoscopy, upper GI endoscopy, capsule endoscopy, endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), and endoscopic ultrasound.

Many surgical procedures are performed on the digestive tract. These include procedures done using endoscopy, laparoscopy, and open surgery. Organ transplants can be performed on the liver, pancreas, and small intestine.

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