Digestive Health Terms

Many of us experience disorders involving the digestive system.  This is a listing of the diseases we treat and the testing we provide.

DISCLAIMER: This library is intended for general information of the reader and is not to be used to diagnose health problems or as a substitute for physician care. The major limitation of informational resources is the inability to take into account the unique circumstances that define health issues of individual patients.

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An uncommon disorder of the esophagus causing difficulty in swallowing. The muscle at the end of the esophagus does not relax enough for food to pass. This condition can be diagnosed by esophageal manometry.
Acute PancreatitisAcute inflammation of the pancreas. It can cause abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. It can be quite severe in some patients.
AerophagiaSwallowing air. Can cause bloating, abdominal pain, and passing intestinal gas.
Ambulatory pH-monitoringSee pH monitoring.
AmebiasisAn acute or chronic parasitic infection of the intestines. Symptoms vary from mild diarrhea to watery diarrhea and loss of water and fluids of the body.
Anal FissureA small tear in the anus that may cause itching, pain, or bleeding.
Anal FistulaA channel that develops between the anus and the skin. Usually a result of an infection that spreads to the skin. It may be a complication from inflammatory bowel disease.
Anorectal EMGA test to determine the electrical activity of the anal sphincter in patients with difficulty with defecation.
Anorectal ManometryA test to determine the pressures of the anal sphincter in patients with fecal incontinence (leakage of stools) and patients with difficulty with defecation.
AppendicitisReddening, irritation, inflammation, and pain in the appendix caused by infection, scarring, or blockage.
Autoimmune HepatitisA liver disease caused by the body's own immune system to destroy liver cells. It can cause cirrhosis if not treated.


Bacteria OvergrowthA uncommon condition where there is too much bacteria in the small intestines. It can cause bloating, diarrhea, and passing gas.  It can be diagnosed with hydrogen breath testing.
Barium EnemaAn X-ray of the rectum, colon, and lower part of the small intestine. The barium is given rectally to coat the lining of the colon so abnormal areas will show up on the X-ray. Also called a Lower GI series.

Barrett's Esophagus

An abnormal lining of the esophagus caused by acid reflux into the esophagus from the stomach (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Patients with Barrett's esophagus are at increased risk for developing esophageal cancer later in life.
Budd-Chiari SyndromeA rare liver disease in which the veins that drain blood from the liver are blocked or narrowed.


Caroli's DiseaseAn inherited condition. Bile ducts in the liver are enlarged and may cause irritation, infection, or gallstones.
Celiac DiseaseAn allergic reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat and many grain. Undigested gluten causes damage to the lining of the small intestine. This prevents absorption of nutrients from other foods. It can cause diarrhea, weight loss, bloating, lactose intolerance, and anemia from poor iron absorption.  I can cause growth delay in children.  Celiac disease is also called celiac sprue, gluten intolerance, and nontropical sprue.
Celiac SprueSee Celiac Disease
CholangitisIrritated or infected bile ducts
CholecystitisAn irritated and inflamed gallbladder.
CholedocholithiasisGallstones in the bile ducts.
CholelithiasisGallstones in the gallbladder.
Chronic PancreatitisRecurring or chronic inflammation of the pancreas causing scarring and abnormal function. It can cause chronic abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, and diarrhea.
CirrhosisA chronic liver condition caused by scar tissue and cell damage. Makes it difficult for the liver to remove toxins from the blood. These toxins build up in the blood and may affect brain functions and other functions of the body.
Clostridium Difficile (C. Difficile)Bacteria naturally present in the large intestine. These bacteria make a substance that can cause a serious infection called pseudomembranous colitis.  It can cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever.
ColectomyAn operation to remove all or part of the colon.
ColitisAny inflammation of the colon.
Collagenous ColitisA type of colitis caused by an abnormal band of collagen, a threadlike protein causing diarrhea and weight loss.
ColonoscopyA test to look into the rectum and colon. The doctor uses a flexible, narrow tube with a light and tiny lens on the end. The insides of the colon can be seen on a television monitor.  Colonoscopy can be used to biopsy abnormal areas and remove colon polyps.
Colorectal CancerCancer that occurs in the colon (large intestine) or the rectum (the end of the large intestine). A number of digestive diseases may increase a person's risk for colorectal cancer, including family history of colon cancer, and familial polyposis.
Colorectal Transit StudyA test to determine the function of the colon. The patient swallows a capsule that contains very small non-digestible small markers. An X-ray tracts the movement of the these markers through the colon. This test is performed in patients with severe constipation.
ConstipationA condition in which the stool becomes hard and dry. A person who is constipated usually has less than two bowel movements in a week. Bowel movements may be painful.
Crohn's DiseaseA form of inflammatory bowel disease. Crohn's Disease causes an immune disorder and inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. It can affect the small intestines, the colon, or anywhere in the gastrointestinal tract.


DefecographyAn X-ray of the anus and rectum to show how the muscles work to move stool.
DiverticulitisA condition that occurs when small pouches in the colon (diverticula) become infected or irritated. Patients usually present with abdominal pain and occasional fever.
DiverticulosisWhen the pouches (diverticula) push outward through weak spots in the colon.  It usually occurs in adult.  It most likely caused by not enough fiber in the diet.  Most patients with diverticulosis will not have any symptoms.  Some patients can develop diverticultitis or bleeding.
Dubin-Johnson SyndromeAn inherited form of liver disease causing chronic jaundice.  It usually occur in young children.
Dumping SyndromeA condition that occurs when food moves too fast from the stomach into the small intestine. Symptoms are nausea, pain, weakness, and sweating.  It can occur after stomach surgery.
DysphagiaProblems in swallowing food or liquid.  It is usually caused by blockage or injury to the esophagus from acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).


EGDSee Esophago-gastro-duodenoscopy
Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangio-
pancreatography (ERCP)
A test using an X-ray to look into the bile and pancreatic ducts. The doctor inserts an endoscope through the mouth into the duodenum and bile ducts. Dye is sent through the tube into the ducts. The dye makes the ducts show up on an X-ray.
Endoscopic SphincterotomyAn endoscopic procedure to cut the muscle between the common bile duct and the pancreatic duct. The doctor uses a catheter and a wire to remove gallstones or other blockages. Also called endoscopic papillotomy.  It is performed along with an ERCP.
Endoscopic UltrasoundAn endoscopic procedure using ultrasound waves to detect and to biopsy abnormal areas on the wall or just outside the intestinal tract.  It is often used to determine the extent of cancers in the esophagus, stomach, pancreas, and rectum.
Eosinophilic GastroenteritisA rare inflammation and swelling of the lining of the stomach, small intestine, or large intestine. The cause is unclear.  It can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea.
ERCPSee Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
Esophageal Balloon TestingA test to look for sensitivity of distending a balloon in the esophagus (swallowing tube) in patients with unexplained chest pain.  Patients with chest pain from the esophagus will have a lower threshold for pain with balloon distension.
Esophageal ManometryA test to study the function of the esophagus, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), and the upper esophageal sphincter (UES). It is also performed in patients before antireflux surgery for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), suspected achalasia, and locating the LES before pH monitoring.
Esophageal VaricesStretched and dilated veins in the esophagus that occur when the liver is not working properly as in cirrhosis. If the veins burst, the severe bleeding can cause death.
EsophagitisAn inflammation and irritation of the esophagus usually caused by acid that flows up from the stomach. It is a complication of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
duodenoscopy (EGD) or Upper Endoscopy
A test where the doctor inserts an a small, flexible, endoscope through the mouth into the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. It can also be used to take tissue from the body for testing or to take color photographs of the inside of the body.


Familial PolyposisAn inherited disease causing many polyps in the colon. Because these polyps are almost certain to cause colon cancer later in life, the entire colon is often removed to prevent colorectal cancer.
Fatty LiverThe build-up of fat in liver cells. The most common cause is alcoholism. Other causes include obesity, diabetes, and pregnancy. Also called steatosis.
Fecal IncontinenceUnable to hold stool in the colon and rectum.
Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT)A test to see whether there is blood in the stool that is not visible to the naked eye. A sample of stool is placed on a chemical strip that will change color if blood is present. This test is recommended for screening colorectal cancer. Hidden blood in the stool can be a manifestation of colorectal cancer.
Fulminant Hepatic Failure (FHF)Liver failure that occurs suddenly in a previously healthy person. The most common causes of FHF are viral hepatitis, acetaminophen overdose, and liver damage from prescription drugs.


Gardner's SyndromeA condition in which many polyps form throughout the digestive tract. Because these polyps are likely to cause cancer, the colon and rectum are often removed to prevent colorectal cancer.
Gastric Acid AnalysisA test to measure the amount of acid production in patients suspected with hypersecretion of acid and Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.
Gastric UlcerAn open sore in the lining of the stomach.
GastrinomaA rare tmor that actively produces the hormone gastrin.  Patients with gastrinoma may present with heartburn, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and weight loss.
GastritisAn inflammation of the stomach lining. It is usually caused by the bacteria Helicobacter Pylori. Other causes include aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), and alcohol.
GastroenteritisAn infection or irritation of the stomach and intestines. May be caused by bacteria or parasites from spoiled food or unclean water. Other causes including eating food that irritates the stomach lining and emotional upsets such as anger, fear, or stress. Symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)Abnormal flow of the stomach's content back up into the esophagus. It occurs when the muscle between the esophagus and the stomach (the lower esophageal sphincter) is weak or relaxes when it shouldn't. The most common symptoms are heartburn and regurgitation, especially after meals and lying down at night. Other less common symptoms include non-cardiac chest pain, wheezing, shortness of breath, chronic cough, hoarseness, and throat discomfort. Complications of GERD include esophagitis, stricture of the esophagus, and Barrett's esophagus.
GastroparesisNerve or muscle damage in the stomach. It causes slow digestion and slow emptying of the stomach. It can cause nausea, vomiting, feeling full after a small meal, bloating, abdominal pain, and heartburn. This condition is common in patients with a long history of diabetes.
GERDSee Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease.
GiardiasisAn infection with the parasite Giardia lamblia from spoiled food or unclean water.  May cause diarrhea. See also Gastroenteritis.
Gilbert SyndromeA buildup of bilirubin in the blood. Caused by lack of a liver enzyme needed to break down bilirubin.
Globus SensationA constant feeling of a lump in the throat.  It can be caused by acid coming up to the throat from the stomach, a complication of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).


Helicobacter pylori (H. Pylori)A spiral-shaped bacterium found in the stomach. H.pylori damages the stomach and duodenal tissue, causing ulcers in the stomach and the first part of the small intestines (duodenum). Previously called Campylobacter pylori.
HemochromatosisAn inherited disease that occurs when the body absorbs too much iron. The body stores the excess iron in the liver, pancreas, and other organs.  It affects males more than females.  Females are more protected because of losing iron through menstruation.  May cause liver disease and even cirrhosis of the liver if not treated. Also called iron overload disease.  Family members of patients with inherited hemochromatosis should also be tested for presence of hemochromatosis.
Hepatic EncephalopathyA condition that may cause loss of consciousness and coma. It is usually the results of advanced liver disease (cirrhosis).  Also called hepatic coma.
Hepatitis AA virus most often spread by unclean food and water. It can cause nausea, diarrhea, and jaundice.  In a few rare cases, it can cause severe sudden liver failure.
Hepatitis BA virus commonly spread by sexual intercourse or blood transfusion, or from mother to newborn from birth. Another way it spreads is by using a needle that was used by an infected person. Hepatitis B is more common and much more easily spread then the AIDS virus and may lead to cirrhosis if not treated.
Hepatitis CA virus spread by blood transfusion or sharing needles with infected people.  Hepatitis C may lead to cirrhosis and even liver cancer.  Hepatitis C used to be called non-A , non-B hepatitis.  It is the most common cause of chronic hepatitis in the United States.
Hepatitis D (Delta)A virus that occurs mostly in people who take illegal drugs by using needles. Only people who have hepatitis B can get hepatitis D.
Hepatitis EA virus spread mostly through unclean water. This type of hepatitis is common in developing countries. It is extremely rare in the United States
Hiatal HerniaA small opening in the diaphragm that allows the upper part of the stomach to move up to the chest. It causes heartburn from stomach acid flowing back up through the opening.  It is very common in gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Hirschsprung's DiseaseA birth defect in which some nerve cells are lacking in the large intestine. The rectum cannot move stool through causing severe constipation. It usually occurs in infants and children.
Hydrogen Breath TestA test for conditions of lactose intolerance or bacteria overgrowth. It is a non-invasive test to measure breath samples for too much hydrogen.


Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)An immune disorder that causes inflammation and ulcers in the GI tract. The two types of inflammatory bowel diseases are Ulcerative Colitis and Crohns Disease. It can cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, and rectal bleeding.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)A very common disorder involving the motion of the intestinal tract. Nerves that control the muscles in the GI tract are too active. The GI tract also becomes sensitive to food, stool, gas, and stress. Causes abdominal pain, urgency in having bowel movements, and alternating constipation and diarrhea. Also called spastic colon. .
Ischemic ColitisDecreased blood flow to the colon. It can cause fever, pain, and bloody diarrhea.


JaundiceA symptom of many liver disorders. Jaundice causes the skin and eyes to turn yellow from too much bilirubin in the blood.



Lactose IntoleranceBeing unable to digest lactose, a very common carbohydrate found in milk products. This condition occurs because the body lacks the enzyme lactase to digest lactose. It causes abdominal bloating, diarrhea, and excessive gas after eating milk products. It can occur in adults as well as children.
Liver CancerLiver cancer can either be primary (originating from the liver) or metastatic (spread from another body organ to the liver). There are many conditions that put an individual at risk for developing primary liver cancer, including hepatitis B, hepatitis C, hemochromatosis, or any conditions that causes cirrhosis.
Liver TumorTumors of the liver can being either be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
Lower Esophageal RingSee Schatzki's Ring


Mallory-Weiss TearA tear in the lower end of the esophagus causing intestinal bleeding. It is caused by severe vomiting and retching.
Meckel's DiverticulumA birth defect in which a small sac forms in the ileum.  It can become infected or bleeding can occur.
Menetrier's DiseaseA long-term disorder that causes large, coiled folds in the stomach. Also called giant hypertrophic gastritis.


Nissen FundoplicationAn operation to sew the top of the stomach (fundus) around the esophagus in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It is performed to stop stomach contents from flowing back into the esophagus (reflux) and to repair a hiatal hernia.  This surgery can be performed using minimal invasive techniques without having a large scar on the abdomen.
Non-ulcer DyspepsiaPain or discomfort in the upper gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms include burning, nausea, and bloating, but no ulcer.



PancreatitisInflammation of the pancreas. See also acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis.
Peptic UlcerA sore in the lining of the esophagus, stomach, or duodenum. A majority of the cases are caused by a bacteria Helicobacter pylori. An ulcer in the stomach is a gastric ulcer; an ulcer in the duodenum is a duodenal ulcer.
Pernicious AnemiaAnemia caused by a lack of vitamin B12. The body needs B12 to make red blood cells.
Peutz- Jeghers SyndromeAn inherited condition. Many polyps grow in the intestine. However, these polyps have little risk of cancer.
pH MonitoringThe best test available to detect abnormal acid reflux in those with symptoms heartburn, regurgitation, chest pain, cough, hoarseness, throat clearing, throat pain or wheezing. This test is very helpful if the diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is unclear or the patient is not responding to treatment. This test records the amount of acid reflux over a 24-hour period to simulate the patient's usual environment. Must patients tolerate this test without problems.
PolypTissue bulging from the surface of an organ. See also colon polyps.
PorphyriaA group of rare, inherited blood disorders. When a person has porphyria, cells fail to change chemicals (porphyrins) to the substance (heme) that gives blood its color. Porphyrins then build up in the body. They show up in large amounts in stool and urine, causing the urine to be colored blue.
Portal HypertensionHigh blood pressure in the portal vein. This vein carries important nutrients from he intestines to the liver. Portal hypertension is a common complication of cirrhosis. It can form abnormal veins (varices) in the esophagus and the stomach. These veins can lead to severe gastrointestinal bleeding.
Primary Biliary CirrhosisA chronic immune-related liver disease that slowly destroys the bile ducts in the liver. This prevents release of bile. Long term irritation of the liver may cause scarring and cirrhosis in later stages of the disease.
Primary Sclerosing CholangitisIrritation, scarring, and narrowing of the bile ducts inside and outside the liver. Bile builds up in the liver and may damage its cells. Many people with this condition may have inflammatory bowel disease.
Pseudomembranous ColitisIrritation and inflammation of the colon. Caused by Clostridium difficile bacteria. Occurs after taking oral antibiotics, which kill bacteria that normally live in the colon.



Radiation ColitisDamage to the colon from radiation therapy.


Schatzki's RingAn abnormal ring of thin tissue that may partially block the lower esophagus causing difficulty in swallowing. Also called Lower Esophageal Ring.
SigmoidoscopyLooking into the sigmoid colon and rectum with a flexible tube, called a sigmoidoscope.  This test is recommended for the general population as a screening test to look for colorectal cancer.
Small bowel manometryA test for the motion property of the small intestines.  This test is usually performed in patients with unexplained or persistent symptoms of nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain.
Sphincter of Oddi Dysfunction (SOD)Abnormal function of the sphincter of Oddi muscle.  It can cause abdominal pain, acute pancreatitis, nausea and vomiting.
Sphincter of Oddi ManometryTo test the pressures of the muscle between the common bile duct and pancreatic ducts.
SteatorrheaA condition in which the body cannot absorb fat. Causes a buildup of fat in the stool and loose, greasy and foul bowel movements.


Traveler's DiarrheaAn infection caused by unclean food or drink. Often occurs during travel outside one's own country. See also Gastroenteritis.


Ulcerative ColitisA disease that causes ulcers and inflammation in the inner lining of the colon and rectum. It is a form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).
Urea Breath TestA simple breath test used to detect Helicobacter pylori infection. The test measures breath samples for urease, an enzyme H. pylori makes.


VaricesStretched veins such as those that form in the esophagus from cirrhosis. They can cause severe gastrointestinal bleeding.
Viral HepatitisHepatitis caused by a virus. Five different viruses (A, B, C, D, and E) can cause viral hepatitis.
VolvulusA twisting of the stomach or large intestine. May be caused by the stomach being in the wrong position, a foreign substance, or abnormal joining of one part of the stomach or intestine to another. Volvulus can lead to blockage, perforation, peritonitis, and poor blood flow.


Wilson's DiseaseAn inherited disorder. Too much copper builds up in the liver and it slowly released into other parts of the body. The overload can cause liver and brain damage if not treated with medication




Zenker's DiverticulumPouches in the esophagus from increased pressure in and around the esophagus. It can cause difficulty in swallowing, choking, and aspiration.
Zollinger-Ellison SyndromeA group of symptoms that occur when tumor called a gastrinoma forms in the pancreas. The tumor, which may cause cancer, releases large amounts of the hormone gastrin. The gastrin causes too much acid in the duodenum, resulting in ulcers, bleeding and even perforation.