Glossary - Digestive Disorders

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abdomen - area between the chest and the hips that contains the stomach, small intestine, large intestine, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and spleen.

absorption - the way nutrients from food move from the small intestine into the cells in the body.

accessory digestive organs - organs that help with digestion but are not part of the digestive tract. These organs include the tongue, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, and glands in the mouth that make saliva.

achalasia - a rare disorder of the esophagus where the muscle at the end of the esophagus does not relax enough for the passage to open properly.

activated charcoal - an over-the-counter product that may help relieve intestinal gas.

acute - severe; sharp; beings sharply.

aerophagia - condition that occurs when a person swallows too much air; causes gas and frequent belching.

alactasia - inherited condition causing the lack of the enzyme needed to digest milk sugar.

alimentary canal - gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

amebiasis - acute or chronic infection; symptoms vary from mild diarrhea to frequent watery diarrhea and loss of water and fluids in the body.

anal fissure - small tear in the anus that may cause itching, pain, or bleeding.

anal fistula - channel that develops between the anus and the skin. Most fistulas are the result of an abscess (infection) that spreads to the skin.

anastomosis - operation to connect two body parts. An example is an operation in which a part of the colon is removed and the two remaining ends are rejoined.

anemia - blood disorder caused by a deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells).

angiodysplasia - abnormal or enlarged blood vessels in the gastrointestinal tract.

angiography - x-ray that uses dye to detect bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract.

anoscopy - test to look for fissures, fistulae, and hemorrhoids using a special instrument, called an anoscope, to look into the anus.

antacids - medications that balance acids and gas in the stomach.

anticholinergics - medications that calm muscle spasms in the intestine.

antidiarrheals - medications that help control diarrhea.

antiemetics - medications that prevent and control nausea and vomiting.

antispasmodics - medications that help reduce or stop muscle spasms in the intestines.

antrectomy - operation to remove the lower portion of the stomach, called the antrum, to help reduce the amount of stomach acid.

anus - opening at the end of the digestive tract where the bowel contents leave the body.

appendectomy - an operation to remove the appendix.

appendicitis - inflammation and reddening of the appendix caused by infection, scarring, or blockage.

appendix - a small pouch, attached to the first part of the large intestine, whose function in the body is unknown.

ascending colon - part of the colon on the right side of the abdomen.

ascites - build-up of fluid in the abdomen usually caused by severe liver disease, such as cirrhosis.

asymptomatic - condition of having a disease, but without any symptoms of it.

atonic colon (Also called lazy colon.) - lack of normal muscle tone or strength in the colon caused by the overuse of laxatives or by Hirschsprung's disease; may result in chronic constipation.

atresia - lack of a normal opening from the esophagus, intestines, or the anus.

atrophic gastritis - chronic inflammation of the stomach lining that causes the breakdown of the mucous membranes of the stomach.

autoimmune hepatitis - liver disease caused when the body's immune system destroys liver cells for no known reason.


barium - chalky liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an x-ray.

barium beefsteak meal - during this test, the patient eats a meal containing barium, allowing the radiologist to watch the stomach as it digests the meal. The amount of time it takes for the barium meal to be digested and leave the stomach gives the physician an idea of how well the stomach is working and helps to detect emptying problems that may not show up on the liquid barium x-ray.

barium enema (Also called lower GI, or gastrointestinal, series.) - a procedure that examines the rectum, the large intestine, and the lower part of the small intestine. A fluid called barium (a metallic, chemical, chalky, liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an x-ray) is given into the rectum as an enema. An x-ray of the abdomen shows strictures (narrowed areas), obstructions (blockages), and other problems.

belching (Also called burping.) - noisy release of gas from the stomach through the mouth.

Bernstein test - Test to find out if heartburn is caused by acid in the esophagus; involves dripping a mild acid, similar to stomach acid, through a tube placed in the esophagus.

bezoar - ball of food, mucus, vegetable fiber, hair, or other material that cannot be digested in the stomach, which can cause blockage, ulcers, and bleeding.

bile - fluid made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Bile helps break down fats and gets rid of wastes in the body.

bile acids - acids made by the liver that work with bile to break down fats.

bile ducts - tubes that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder for storage and to the small intestine for use in digestion.

biliary atresia - condition present from birth in which the bile ducts inside or outside the liver do not have normal openings. Bile becomes trapped in the liver, causing jaundice and cirrhosis. Without surgery, the condition may cause death.

biliary stricture - narrowing of the biliary tract from scar tissue. The scar tissue may result from injury, disease, pancreatitis, infection, or gallstones.

biliary tract (Also called biliary system or biliary tree.) - gallbladder and the bile ducts.

bilirubin - a yellow-green color substance formed when hemoglobin breaks down. Bilirubin gives bile its color. Bilirubin is normally passed in stool. Too much bilirubin causes jaundice.

bismuth subsalicylate - nonprescription medication used to treat diarrhea, heartburn, indigestion, and nausea; also part of the treatment for ulcers caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori.

bloating - fullness or swelling in the abdomen that often occurs after meals.

borborygmi - rumbling sounds caused by gas moving through the intestines (stomach "growling").

bowel - another word for the small and large intestines.

bowel movement - body wastes passed through the rectum and anus.

bowel prep - process used to clean the colon with enemas and a special drink; used before surgery of the colon, colonoscopy, or barium x-ray.

Budd-Chiari syndrome - Rare liver disease in which the veins that drain blood from the liver are blocked or narrowed.

bulking agents - laxatives that make bowel movements soft and easy to pass.


calculi - stones or solid lumps such as gallstones.

Campylobacter pylori - Original name for the bacterium that causes ulcers; new name is Helicobacter pylori.

candidiasis - mild infection caused by the Candida fungus, which lives naturally in the gastrointestinal tract. Infection occurs when a change in the body, such as surgery, causes the fungus to suddenly overgrow.

carbohydrates - one of the three main classes of food and a source of energy. Carbohydrates are the sugars and starches found in breads, cereals, fruits, and vegetables, which, during digestion, carbohydrates are changed into a simple sugar called glucose. Glucose is stored in the liver until cells need it for energy.

cathartics - laxatives.

catheter - thin, flexible tube that carries fluids into or out of the body.

cecostomy - tube that goes through the skin into the beginning of the large intestine to remove gas or feces; it is a short-term way to protect part of the colon while it heals after surgery.

cecum - beginning of the large intestine; it is connected to the lower part of the small intestine, called the ileum.

celiac disease - a digestive disease that damages the small intestine because of a sensitivity to gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats. This hereditary disorder interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food.

celiac sprue - celiac disease.

chlorhydria - too much hydrochloric acid in the stomach.

cholangiography - series of x-rays of the bile ducts.

cholangitis - irritated or infected bile ducts.

cholecystectomy - operation to remove the gallbladder.

cholecystitis - irritated gallbladder.

cholecystokinin - hormone released in the small intestine. Causes muscles in the gallbladder and the colon to tighten and relax.

choledocholithiasis - gallstones in the bile ducts.

cholelithiasis - gallstones in the gallbladder.

cholestasis - blocked bile ducts often caused by gallstones.

cholesterol - a substance normally made by the body, but also found in foods from animal sources, like beef, eggs, and butter. Too much cholesterol in the body can lead to narrowing and blockage of the arteries, especially those that feed the heart and keep it healthy. High cholesterol can also cause the formation of gallstones. Ideally, blood cholesterol levels should be less than 200mg/dL.

chronic - referring to a disease or disorder that usually develops slowly and lasts for a long period of time.

chyme - thick liquid made of partially digested food and stomach juices; made in the stomach and moves into the small intestine for further digestion.

cirrhosis - a chronic problem makes it hard for the liver to remove toxins (poisonous substances) from the body. Alcohol, medications, and other substances may build up in the bloodstream and cause problems. Cirrhosis is a result of scarring and damage from other diseases, such as biliary atresia and alcoholism.

Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) - Bacteria naturally present in the large intestine that make a substance that can cause a serious infection called pseudomembranous colitis in people taking antibiotics.

colectomy - operation to remove all or part of the colon.

colic - attacks of abdominal pain, caused by muscle spasms in the intestines.

colitis - irritation of the colon.

collagenous colitis - type of colitis caused by an abnormal band of collagen, a thread-like protein.

colon - large intestine.

colonic inertia - condition of the colon when muscles do not work properly, causing constipation.

colonoscopy - a procedure that allows the physician to view the entire length of the large intestine, and can often help identify abnormal growths, inflamed tissue, ulcers, and bleeding. It involves inserting a colonoscope, a long, flexible, lighted tube, in through the rectum up into the colon. The colonoscope allows the physician to see the lining of the colon, remove tissue for further examination, and possibly treat some problems that are discovered.

colonoscopic polypectomy - removal of tumor-like growths (polyps) using a device inserted through a colonoscope.

colon polyps - small, fleshy, mushroom-shaped growths in the colon.

coloproctectomy - proctocolectomy.

colorectal cancer - cancer that occurs in the colon (large intestine) or the rectum (the end of the large intestine).

colorectal transit study - a test to show how well food moves through the colon. The patient swallows capsules containing small markers which are visible on x-ray. The patient follows a high-fiber diet during the course of the test, and the movement of the markers through the colon is monitored with abdominal x-rays taken several times three to seven days after the capsule is swallowed.

colostomy - operation that makes it possible for stool to leave the body after the rectum has been removed.

common bile duct - tube that carries bile from the liver to the small intestine.

common bile duct obstruction - blockage of the common bile duct, often caused by gallstones.

constipation - condition in which the stool becomes hard and dry.

continence - ability to hold in a bowel movement or urine.

continent ileostomy - operation to create a pouch from part of the small intestine. Stool that collects in the pouch is removed by inserting a small tube through an opening made in the abdomen.

corticosteroids - medications that reduce irritation and inflammation.

Crohn's disease (Also called regional enteritis and ileitis.) - A chronic form of inflammatory bowel disease that usually affects the lower small intestine (called the ileum) or the colon, but it can affect the entire gastrointestinal tract.

cryptosporidia - parasite that can cause gastrointestinal infection and diarrhea.

cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS) - sudden, repeated attacks of severe vomiting (especially in children), nausea, and physical exhaustion with no apparent cause.

cystic duct - tube that carries bile from the gallbladder into the common bile duct and the small intestine.

cystic duct obstruction - blockage of the cystic duct, often caused by gallstones.


defecation - passage of bowel contents through the rectum and anus.

defecography - an x-ray of the anorectal area that evaluates completeness of stool elimination, identifies anorectal abnormalities, and evaluates rectal muscle contractions and relaxation.

dehydration - loss of fluids from the body, often caused by diarrhea.

delayed gastric emptying - gastroparesis.

descending colon - part of the colon where stool is stored. Located on the left side of the abdomen.

diaphragm - muscle wall between the chest and the abdomen. It is the major muscle that the body uses for breathing.

diarrhea - frequent, loose, and watery bowel movements.

digestants - medications that aid or stimulate digestion.

digestion - process the body uses to break down food into simple substances for energy, growth, and cell repair.

digestive tract - the organs that are involved in digestion, including the mouth, salivary glands, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, and large intestine.

distention - bloating or swelling; usually referring to the abdomen.

diverticula - plural form of diverticulum.

diverticulitis - condition that occurs when small pouches in the colon (diverticula) become infected or irritated.

diverticulosis - condition that occurs when small pouches (diverticula) push outward through weak spots in the colon.

diverticulum - small pouch in the colon. These pouches are not painful or harmful unless they become infected or irritated.

dumping syndrome (Also called rapid gastric emptying.) - condition that occurs when food moves too fast from the stomach into the small intestine.

duodenal ulcer - ulcer in the lining of the first part of the small intestine (duodenum).

duodenitis - irritation of the first part of the small intestine (duodenum).

duodenum - first part of the small intestine.

dysentery - infectious disease of the colon. Symptoms include bloody, mucus-filled diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and loss of fluids from the body.

dyspepsia - indigestion.

dysphagia - problems in swallowing food or liquid, usually caused by blockage or injury to the esophagus.


electrocoagulation - procedure that uses an electrical current passed through an endoscope to stop bleeding in the digestive tract and to remove affected tissue.

electrolytes - chemicals such as salts and minerals needed for various functions in the body.

encopresis - accidental passage of a bowel movement.

endoscope - small, flexible tube with a light and a lens on the end used to look into the esophagus, stomach, duodenum, colon, or rectum. It can also be used to take tissue from the body for testing or to take color photographs of the inside of the body. Colonoscopes and sigmoidoscopes are types of endoscopes.

endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) - a procedure that allows the physician to diagnose and treat problems in the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, and pancreas. The procedure combines x-ray and the use of an endoscope - a long, flexible, lighted tube. The scope is guided through the patient's mouth and throat, then through the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. The physician can examine the inside of these organs and detect any abnormalities. A tube is then passed through the scope, and a dye is injected which will allow the internal organs to appear on an x-ray.

endoscopic sphincterotomy - operation to cut the muscle between the common bile duct and the pancreatic duct. Also called endoscopic papillotomy.

endoscopy - procedure that uses an endoscope to diagnose or treat a condition.

enema - liquid put into the rectum to clear out the bowel.

enteral nutrition (Also called tube feeding.) - a way to provide food through a tube placed in the nose, the stomach, or the small intestine. A tube in the nose is called a nasogastric or nasoantral tube. A tube that goes through the skin into the stomach is called a gastrostomy or percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG). A tube into the small intestine is called a jejunostomy or percutaneous endoscopic jejunostomy (PEJ) tube.

enteritis - irritation of the small intestine.

enteroscopy - examination of the small intestine with an endoscope.

enterostomy - ostomy, or opening, into the intestine through the abdominal wall.

enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) - blood test used to detect Helicobacter pylori bacteria. Also used to diagnose an ulcer.

eosinophilic gastroenteritis - infection and swelling of the lining of the stomach, small intestine, or large intestine.

epithelial cells - one of many kinds of cells that form the epithelium and absorb nutrients.

epithelium - inner and outer tissue covering the digestive tract organs.

eructation - belching.

erythema nodosum - red swellings or sores on the lower legs during flare-ups of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

esophageal atresia - during pregnancy, the baby's esophagus does not develop properly, and ends before reaching the stomach. Food cannot pass from the mouth into the stomach.

esophageal manometry - this test helps determine the strength of the muscles in the esophagus. It is useful in evaluating gastroesophageal reflux and swallowing abnormalities. A small tube is guided into the nostril, then passed into the throat, and finally into the esophagus. The pressure the esophageal muscles produce at rest is then measured.

esophageal Ph monitoring - a test to measure the amount of acid in the esophagus.

esophageal spasms - muscle cramps in the esophagus that cause pain in the chest.

esophageal stricture - narrowing of the esophagus often caused by acid flowing back from the stomach.

esophageal ulcer - sore in the esophagus caused by long-term inflammation or damage from the residue of medications.

esophageal varices - stretched veins in the esophagus that occur when the liver is not working properly.

esophagitis - irritation of the esophagus, usually caused by acid that flows up from the stomach.

esophagogastroduodenoscopy (Also called EGD or upper endoscopy.) - a procedure that allows the physician to examine the inside of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. A thin, flexible, lighted tube, called an endoscope, is guided into the mouth and throat, then into the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. The endoscope allows the physician to view the inside of this area of the body, as well as to insert instruments through a scope for the removal of a sample of tissue for biopsy (if necessary).

esophagus - organ that connects the mouth to the stomach.

excrete - to get rid of waste from the body.

extrahepatic biliary tree - bile ducts located outside the liver.


familial polyposis - an inherited disease that causes polyps in the colon. These polyps can lead to cancer.

fatty liver (Also called steatosis.) - buildup of fat in liver cells.

fecal fat test - test to measure the body's ability to break down and absorb fat.

fecal incontinence - being unable to hold stool in the colon and rectum.

fecal occult blood test - checks for hidden (occult) blood in the stool. It involves placing a very small amount of stool on a special card, which is then tested in the physician's office or sent to a laboratory.

feces - solid wastes that pass through the rectum as bowel movements. Stools are undigested foods, bacteria, mucus, and dead cells.

fiber - substance in foods that comes from plants, which helps with digestion by keeping stool soft so that it moves smoothly through the colon.

fistula - abnormal passage between two organs or between an organ and the outside of the body, caused when damaged tissues come into contact with each other and join together while healing.

flatulence - excessive gas in the stomach or intestine, this may also cause bloating.

flatus - gas passed through the rectum.

functional disorders (Also called motility disorders.) - conditions that result from poor nerve and muscle function.


galactose - a type of sugar in milk products and sugar beets, also produced within the body.

galactosemia - a buildup of galactose in the body, caused by a lack of one of the enzymes needed to breakdown galactose into glucose.

gallbladder - organ that stores the bile made in the liver and sends bile into the small intestine to help digest fat.

gallstones - solid masses or stones made of cholesterol or bilirubin that form in the gallbladder or bile ducts.

Gardner's syndrome - Condition in which many polyps form throughout the digestive tract.

gas - air that comes from the normal breakdown of food and is passed out of the body through the rectum (flatus) or the mouth (belch).

gastrectomy - operation to remove all or part of the stomach.

gastric - related to the stomach.

gastric juices - liquids produced in the stomach to help break down food and kill bacteria.

gastric resection - operation to remove part or all of the stomach.

gastric ulcer - see stomach ulcer.

gastrin - hormone released after eating, which causes the stomach to produce more acid.

gastritis - inflammation of the stomach lining.

gastrocolic reflex - increase of muscle movement in the gastrointestinal tract when food enters an empty stomach, which may cause the urge to have a bowel movement right after eating.

gastroenteritis - infection or irritation of the stomach and intestines, which may be caused by bacteria or parasites from spoiled food or unclean water, or eating food that irritates the stomach lining and emotional upsets such as anger, fear, or stress.

gastroenterologist - physician who specializes in digestive diseases.

gastroenterology - field of medicine concerned with the function and disorders of the digestive system.

gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) - a digestive disorder that is caused by gastric acid flowing from the stomach into the esophagus.

gastrointestinal (GI) tract (Also called the alimentary canal or digestive tract.) - large, muscular tube that extends from the mouth to the anus, where the movement of muscles and release of hormones and enzymes digest food.

gastroparesis (Also called delayed gastric emptying.) - nerve or muscle damage in the stomach that causes slow digestion and emptying, vomiting, nausea, or bloating.

gastrostomy - an artificial opening from the stomach to a hole (stoma) in the abdomen where a feeding tube is inserted.

gluten - a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats.


heartburn - painful, burning feeling in the chest caused by stomach acid flowing back into the esophagus.

Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) - spiral-shaped bacterium found in the stomach. H. pylori damages stomach and duodenal tissue, causing ulcers. Previously called Campylobacter pylori.

hemorrhoidectomy - operation to remove hemorrhoids.

hemorrhoids - swollen blood vessels in and around the anus that cause itching, pain, and sometimes bleeding.

hepatic - related to the liver.

hepatitis - inflammation of the liver that sometimes causes permanent damage; caused by viruses, drugs, alcohol, or parasites. Hepatitis has the following forms:

hepatitis A - a form of infectious hepatitis caused by the hepatitis A virus. The virus may be spread by fecal-oral contact, fecal-infected food or water, and may also be spread by a blood-borne infection (which is rare).

hepatitis B - a form of infectious hepatitis caused by the hepatitis B virus. Transmission of the hepatitis B virus occurs through blood and body fluid exposure such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or saliva.

hepatitis C - a form of infectious hepatitis caused by the hepatitis C virus. Transmission of the hepatitis C virus occurs primarily from contact with infected blood, but can also occur from sexual contact or from an infected mother to her baby.

hepatitis D - a form of infectious hepatitis caused by the hepatitis (Delta) virus. This form of hepatitis can only occur in the presence of hepatitis B. Transmission of hepatitis D occurs the same way as hepatitis B.

hepatitis E - a form of infectious hepatitis caused by the hepatitis E virus. This form of hepatitis is similar to hepatitis A. Transmission occurs through fecal-oral contamination. Hepatitis E is most common in poorly developed countries and is rarely seen in the US.

hepatitis G - the newest form of infectious hepatitis. Transmission is believed to occur through blood and is seen in IV drug users, individuals with clotting disorders, such as hemophilia, and individuals who require hemodialysis for renal failure.

hepatologist - physician who specializes in liver diseases.

hepatology - field of medicine concerned with the functions and disorders of the liver.

hernia - a protrusion of part of an organ through the muscle that surrounds it.

hiatal hernia - small opening in the diaphragm that allows the upper part of the stomach to move up into the chest and causes heartburn from stomach acid flowing back up through the opening.

Hirschsprung's disease - Birth defect in which some nerve cells are lacking in the large intestine.

hormones - chemical substances created by the body that control numerous body functions.

hydrochloric acid - acid made in the stomach that works with pepsin and other enzymes to break down proteins.


ileal - related to the ileum, the lowest end of the small intestine.

ileoanal anastomosis (Also called a pull-through operation.) - an operation to remove the colon and inner lining of the rectum, but leaving the outer muscle of the rectum. The bottom end of the small intestine (ileum) is pulled through the remaining rectum and joined to the anus, allowing stool to pass normally.

ileoanal reservoir - an operation to remove the colon, upper rectum, and part of the lower rectum. An internal pouch is created from the remaining intestine to hold stool.

ileocecal valve - a valve that connects the lower part of the small intestine and the upper part of the large intestine (ileum and cecum). This valve controls the flow of fluid in the intestines and prevents backflow.

ileocolitis - irritation of the lower part of the small intestine (ileum) and colon.

ileostomy - operation that makes it possible for stool to leave the body after the colon and rectum are removed in which an opening is made in the abdomen and the bottom of the small intestine (ileum) attaches to it.

ileum - lower end of the small intestine.

impaction - trapping of an object in a body passage, such as stones in the bile duct or hardened stool in the colon.

indigestion - feeling of nausea, bloating, gas, and/or heartburn caused by poor digestion.

inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) - diseases that cause irritation and ulcers in the intestinal tract. Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are the most common inflammatory bowel diseases.

inguinal hernia - part of the small intestine that pushes through an opening in the abdominal muscle, causing a bulge underneath the skin in the groin area.

intestinal flora - bacteria, yeasts, and fungi that grow normally in the intestines.

intestinal mucosa - surface lining of the intestines where the cells absorb nutrients.

intolerance - allergy or sensitivity to a food, drug, or other substance.

ischemic colitis - decreased blood flow to the colon, which causes fever, pain, and bloody diarrhea.


jaundice - yellowing of the skin and eyes that is caused by too much bilirubin in the blood.

jejunum - middle section of the small intestine between the duodenum and ileum.

jejunostomy - operation to create an opening in the jejunum to a hole (stoma) in the abdomen, to allow for enteral nutrition.



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