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What are the Most Common Gastrointestinal Problems?

By Emma Lloyd
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Most people will experience gastrointestinal problems of some kind at least once. These types of disorders affect one or more structures in the digestive system, which includes the esophagus, stomach, intestines, colon, and rectum. Common problems include constipation, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, gastroenteritis, colitis, and irritable bowel disorders.

The most common gastrointestinal problems — diarrhea and constipation — are common symptoms of many digestive disorders, but may also occur without an underlying disease. In such cases, these are often caused by stress, inadequate exercise, routine changes, or medication. Both diarrhea and constipation may also be caused by dietary changes or inadequacies. Diarrhea, for example, may occur in people who eat too much fiber or who are allergic to certain foods, while constipation can result from too little fiber or from overeating dairy products.

Diarrhea and constipation may also signify the presence of a more serious digestive disorder. For example, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may cause one or both of these symptoms, in addition to abdominal pain, bloating, and gas. Many people with IBS benefit from increasing the amount of fiber they eat, avoiding foods that trigger symptoms, and reducing stress.

Hemorrhoids are a common problem that may result from chronic diarrhea or constipation. These swollen blood vessels form due to chronic pressure exerted during strained bowel movements. They may form inside or outside the rectum. When outside they lie just under the skin, and may burst and form a blood clot. If located inside the rectum, they may bleed and become inflamed and irritated. People with hemorrhoids can help alleviate these problems by stabilizing their bowel habits to reduce the amount of straining they do. An improved diet, with the right amount of fiber, is another useful way to manage this problem.

Gastroenteritis and colitis are inflammatory gastrointestinal problems in which sections of the digestive tract become chronically inflamed. In colitis, for example, the bowel becomes irritated and inflamed, leading to abdominal cramping, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, and irregular bowel habits. These digestive disorders may have a variety of causes. For example, the disorder may be caused by an infectious agent, stomach ulcers, a side effect of radiation treatment for cancer, or a symptom of reduced blood supply to the affected area.

Colon polyps are a benign gastrointestinal disorder, but they may become cancerous if left untreated. Most cases of colon cancer begin as a benign polyp, a small growth of skin that forms in the colon or rectum. Only a relatively small proportion can turn cancerous, but the polyps themselves are common. Colon cancer can spread quickly if a precancerous growth is not removed. In most cases, the removal can prevent cancer from occurring at that spot.

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Discussion Comments

By kylee07drg — On Feb 20, 2013

I've been dating a guy with serious gastrointestinal tract problems. He has Crohn's disease, and the symptoms are similar to those of IBS.

He can have diarrhea with little warning, and he has days when he is afraid to leave the house because he is having an episode. He can get very sick, and he has told me that in the past, he has lost a lot of weight because of this.

Does anyone know if Crohn's disease can be passed down to children? I would hate to have a child with him someday if there is a good chance he might transfer this to the poor child.

By JackWhack — On Feb 19, 2013

I think that certain gastrointestinal problems are hereditary. I know a man who has been having serious issues with his esophagus, and his son, daughter, and sister have the same problem.

Sometimes when they eat, the food just gets stuck in the esophagus, and some of them have had to go to the hospital for surgery to remove the food and stretch the esophagus out. They also all have bad heartburn.

By wavy58 — On Feb 19, 2013

I've been dealing with constipation all my life. There have been times when I've gone five days without having a bowel movement.

I sometimes have to take a super powerful laxative that will clear everything out. The downside is that it causes cramps and diarrhea, and I can't seem to stop going for several hours.

During weeks when my constipation only lasts a couple of days, I have painful hemorrhoids from all the straining. I just can't seem to get everything in my gastrointestinal system balanced out, and I don't know if I'll ever know what it's like to have normal bowel movements.

By Perdido — On Feb 18, 2013

@profess – Does your gas and bloating occur after you eat a certain food? If so, you might have a food allergy, but if not, you need to be taking some sort of medication.

I had a lot of problems with bloating as a teenager, and I got these drops to put on my food before I eat it that prevent me from having gas and bloating. You can find them in just about any pharmacy, next to the other gas relief medicines.

By profess — On Dec 17, 2012

I have problems with a bloating stomach all the time. It is so annoying! It makes me look completely different. How can I stop this from happening or make it go away when it does?

By Belted — On Dec 17, 2012

As a kid I drank milk all the time and never had any problems. Then in college I stopped drinking it and stayed that way for all of my 20s. I am in my early 30s now and started eating cereal for breakfast and it give me a really weird feeling in my stomach. It is not nausea, but it gurgles and grumbles constantly.

Could this be because of the milk and do you think it means that I am lactose intolerant? I don't have this reaction with cheese or ice cream, only when I have a bowl of cereal with a few cups of milk.

By anon259283 — On Apr 05, 2012

This is an interesting site. It helped me a little with my work but improved my knowledge. I can now help anyone who suffers from this disease gastrointestinal problems and suggest this BRAT diet.

By LivHappyr — On Jun 18, 2010

GameHunter00- My husband suffers from IBS too and I feel sorry for him. He also carries around emergency supplies in all our vehicles, just in case he has to go right away and there are no restrooms in sight. Before any major functions, like weddings or parties, he has attacks and we are often late. I admit it can get a little frustrating having to wait or even turn around and come home, but he can’t help it so I don’t show my disappointment.

Have you tried any medications? He’s tried several with no improvement, so he lives with it as best he can. Do you have any helpful tips on how you live with IBS?

By GameHunter00 — On Jun 01, 2010

Can’t leave home without it! No, it’s not my PSP or iPod, it’s a roll of toilet paper. I’ve been living with irritable bowel syndrome for years. The prescriptions and diet changes didn’t help; my frequent diarrhea attacks and stomach pains did not change one bit. My attacks come on without warning. My stomach pain starts, like I took way too many laxitives, then my frequent visits to the nearest bathroom begin.

I had to apply for F.M.L.A. to protect my job for those days where I simply cannot stop using the restroom. During my hunting trips, I carry T.P. in my backpack. Underneath the seat of my truck, you guessed it.

I hope sharing my story helps show other people they're not alone. We don't have to suffer in silence and shouldn't be embarrassed.

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