Diseases of the gastrointestinal tract

Below is a list and brief description of the main diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. For more information, see the end of each section for a link to the main article for each disease.

Classification of diseases of the stomach

Below you will find the most common diseases of the gastrointestinal tract divided into:

  1. Diseases of the stomach
  2. Diseases of the intestine

Diseases of the stomach

Gastritis / gastritis

Gastritis, medically gastritis, is a common disease. One of the most common causes of gastritis is the colonization of the stomach with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori. But even substances that irritate the gastric mucosa, can cause inflammation, such as painkillers ("NSAIDs"), alcohol or cigarette smoke. For the treatment of gastritis, the acid production of the stomach is usually inhibited so that the mucous membrane can recover better. For this purpose, acid blockers, so-called proton pump inhibitors, are used.

stomach ulcer

A gastric ulcer, medical gastric ulcer, is a tumor of the gastric mucosa that usually develops as a result of gastric mucosal inflammation / irritation. Accordingly, the risk factors of a gastric ulcer are similar to those of gastritis: Helicobacter colonization, massive use of painkillers / alcohol and cigarette smoke may favor the development of gastric ulcer. A serious complication of gastric ulcer is stomach bleeding, which occurs when the ulcer reaches a stomach vessel and causes it to rupture.

stomach cancer

Gastric cancer is one of the top five cancers among women and men. It usually develops after years on the basis of a chronic gastritis or a chronic gastric ulcer. Since the symptoms, such as bloody vomiting, dysphagia or weight loss, usually occur very late, the prognosis of the tumor is poor. Gastric cancer is usually initially treated with chemotherapy and subsequent (partial) removal of the stomach.

gastrointestinal bleeding

A stomach bleeding is a sometimes serious complication of various stomach diseases. It represents an emergency and should be immediately clarified immediately by a doctor, as it can lead to death by death in extreme cases. Most of the stomach bleeding (about 50%) is caused by a stomach ulcer. In addition, injuries of the gastric mucosa ("erosions") and gastritis may lead to stomach bleeding. Even gastric cancer should always be excluded as the cause of gastric bleeding.
Greater gastric bleeding is usually diagnosed and treated by means of a gastroscopy, in the context of which the source of bleeding can be breastfed.


Relux disease is widespread and affects about 20% of the population. Reflux is the Latin word for reflux. It is a transgression of gastric contents into the esophagus when the lower oesophageal muscle does not close properly. As the gastric acid content of the gastric contents is acidic, acid reflux, heartburn and pain behind the breast are typical reflux. If the esophagus is exposed to the acidic gastric contents for an extended period of time, mucosal changes and complications such as inflammation of the esophagus, a so-called Barrett's syndrome, and in the worst case, esophageal cancer can occur.

irritable stomach

The disease "irritable stomach" is a collective term for various disorders and disorders of the stomach for which no other organic cause can be found. Accordingly, the diagnosis is an exclusion diagnosis. For example, patients may experience upper abdominal pain, bloating, nausea or vomiting. There is no drug therapy or operation option, but a change in lifestyle or nutrition can improve the symptoms.

Rare diseases of the stomach

Information on other rare diseases of the stomach can be found here:

  • gastrinoma
  • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome
  • Perforation

Diseases of the intestine

Gastrointestinal infections

Colloquially, an infection of the gastrointestinal tract with viruses or bacteria is referred to as gastrointestinal influenza, medically as Gastroenteritis . It is an inflammation of the mucous membrane of the gastrointestinal tract. Typically, patients suffer from acute diarrhea and vomiting. Viral pathogens are much more common and fortunately safer than bacterial ones. As a rule, the infection heals by itself, but under certain circumstances serious complications can occur. Especially the elderly and newborns are at risk as dehydration can be the result of diarrhea-related water loss.


Polyps occur in the gastrointestinal tract, especially in the colon. These are basically benign growths of the intestinal mucosa, which are caused by an increased growth of these. Especially in Western countries, they are widespread, as their emergence is favored by the intake of animal fats and proteins (ie meat). Polyps usually cause no symptoms, but can degenerate over the years and lead to colon cancer. Therefore, it is advisable in the age (over 55 years) to have a regular colorectal cancer screening done. In this case, a colonoscopy is performed, in which the existing polyps can be assessed and possibly removed.

For more information, see Colon Polyps.

colon cancer

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer in both women and men, especially in old age. The most commonly affected part of the intestine is the large intestine, but tumors are also possible in the small intestine. Colon tumors arise most often from degenerate colon polyps. The disease is symptom-free for a relatively long time, and symptoms such as bloody stool or tarry stool occur only at later stages. Sudden blockages and diarrhea can also be a sign of colorectal cancer.
For treatment, usually the cancerous part of the colon is surgically removed. Chemotherapy and radiation also play an important role in therapy.

Crohn's disease

Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that primarily affects the small and large intestines. Theoretically, however, the Crohn's disease can affect all sections of the digestive tract, including the esophagus. Inflammation of the mucous membrane occurs, which can occur "discontinuously" at different sites. The cause of the inflammatory reaction is still unclear, it is based on genetic and immunological factors. Patients suffer from chronic abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea. The treatment uses drugs that inhibit the immune system and thus the inflammatory response (immunosuppressants).

Ulcerative colitis

Another chronic inflammatory bowel disease is ulcerative colitis ("colitis" = colitis). Unlike Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis is confined to the large intestine and occurs continuously, that is, at a single contagious site of inflammation. Symptoms include pain, bloating, diarrhea, and blood in the stool. The therapy is similar to that of Crohn's disease, there are immunosuppressive drugs used as drugs that inhibit the immune system and the inflammatory response.

Diverticulosis / diverticulitis

Colonic diverticula are sloughs of the intestinal mucosa. If such diverticula occur at several sites of the large intestine, this is called diverticulosis. These outgrowths are completely symptom-free in the majority of patients (about 80%). Rare complications include bleeding and a breakthrough of the intestinal wall. Most diverticulosis is discovered by chance in the context of a colorectal cancer screening.
Intestinal contents can accumulate and ignite in the sumps. If it comes to such inflamed diverticula, it is called a diverticulitis. This is characterized by moderate to severe pain, inflammatory signs such as fever, diarrhea and much more noticeable. Uncomplicated diverticulitis can be treated with antibiotics, while complications such as intestinal perforation or peritonitis require surgery.

Meckel's diverticulum

Meckel's diverticulum is also an outgrowth of the intestine, but in the area of ​​the small intestine. The special feature is that the diverticulum forms on the basis of a remnant of embryonic development. A passageway on the body of the embryo, the so-called Dottergang, this does not close to birth but remains and can lead to the formation of the Meckel diverticulum. This is usually noticed within the first 2 years of age and occurs in boys about twice as often as in girls. Since it is usually very symptom-free for a long time, it is diagnosed in some patients even at an older age. As a complication can occur an inflammation of the Meckel's diverticulum, which is symptomatically similar to appendicitis.

Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic disease that is not based on any organic cause. There are complaints of digestion and sometimes severe pain lasting at least 3 months before the diagnosis can be made. Similar to the irritable stomach is an exclusion diagnosis. Patients also typically suffer from bloating and diarrhea. Unfortunately, there is no specific therapy because no clear cause is known. Certain eating habits and the intestinal mucosal protective drugs can improve the situation.

celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a gluten intolerance. Gluten is a protein that is found in many grains. It is included among others in wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelled. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, and the body produces antibodies that react with gluten and cause inflammation (gliadin antibodies). A celiac disease is diagnosed by means of a gastroscopy, in which one can also see the small intestine. There are changes in the mucous membrane. Patients should only eat gluten-free food, for example in the form of potatoes, corn, rice, millet and soya.

Rare diseases of the intestine

For information on other rare diseases of the intestine, see:

  • Darmabszess
  • Mesenterialarterienverschluss
  • Whipple's disease
  • Pseudomembranous colitis

Unit 14.3 Digestive System Disorders (February 2020).

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