The path food takes in the body, in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, starts with the mouth and ends with the anus (rectum). The GI tract is divided into two main sections: the upper GI tract and the lower GI tract.
The upper GI tract is generally considered to be the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and finally the first part of the small intestine (duodenum). The lower GI tract runs from the small intestine to the large intestine (colon) to the anus.
Let’s take a look at these sections of the gastrointestinal tract and what they do:
What Does the Upper GI Tract Do?
The upper GI tract digests your food and prepares it for processing and utilizing nutrients throughout the body. Problems with the upper GI tract can manifest symptoms like burping, problems swallowing, heartburn, acid reflux, upset stomach, or abdominal pain.
As you chew your food, saliva begins to break down the food – starting the digestive process. Once food is swallowed, it travels down the esophagus and into the stomach for full digestion.
The stomach stores the food and begins breaking down what someone has eaten while releasing pepsin and hydrochloric acids. These acids further break down the food and create a substance called chyme.
Chyme then sits in the stomach before moving down into the small intestine, where the nutrients are absorbed. This triggers the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas to begin processing the nutrients.
Bile production begins in the liver. The bile is then stored in the gallbladder, where it is gradually released into the small intestine while the pancreas further breaks down the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates for the body.
The upper GI tract can be examined with an endoscopy, which is performed by a gastroenterologist while the patient is under anesthesia. It is an outpatient procedure, but the patient is generally not allowed to drive home.
What Does the Lower GI Tract Do?
The contents of the small intestine empty into the large intestine, which is also called the colon. While food travels through the colon, the water and salts are absorbed. Once the nutrients are removed from the food, the remaining materials become stool – which moves into the rectum to be expelled from the body as waste.
The lower GI tract can be examined in several ways, including via a colonoscopy. As with an endoscopy, the patient is placed under anesthesia for a colonoscopy.
There are many disorders that can affect a person’s GI tract, including the following:
One of the most common GI conditions is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This often manifests itself as a burning pain in the middle of the chest. It is caused by acid going back up the esophagus.
When the gallbladder is holding too much cholesterol or waste in the bile, gallstones can form. These can usually be treated with medication, but large gallstones may require surgical removal.
Celiac disease is when a person has a sensitivity to gluten, which is a protein found in grains like wheat, rye, oats, and barley. The only treatment for celiac disease is to cease eating gluten in any form.
Crohn’s disease is one of several inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs). This condition can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, weight loss, and unexplained fevers.
Another inflammatory bowel disease is ulcerative colitis, which affects the large intestine. This condition happens when the bowel misidentifies food as an invading bacteria, and sores and ulcers develop as the body tries to fight off food with immunochemical responses.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is different from inflammatory bowel disease. This condition presents itself with abdominal cramping, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation.
Gastroenterologists in Texas
Many people suffer from digestive discomfort but remain silent about it due to embarrassment. There is no reason to suffer in silence – our team treats these conditions every day.
If you have digestive issues of any kind, contact the experts at Austin Gastroenterology. You may request an appointment online or contact us at our location nearest you. We look forward to helping you feel much, much better.