The 6 Most Common Gastrointestinal Diseases

Gastrointestinal diseases can appear in multiple ways in people. Abdominal pain is a common symptom. Learn more.
The 6 Most Common Gastrointestinal Diseases
Samuel Antonio Sánchez Amador

Written and verified by el biólogo Samuel Antonio Sánchez Amador.

Last update: 15 April, 2023

It should come as no surprise that many gastrointestinal diseases are on the rise, as reports that the incidence of colon cancer has increased by 2% in patients under 50 years of age in recent years.

In the same way, since 1975, obesity has tripled in the world, as indicated by the World Health Organization (WHO). In 2016, 39% of adults over 18 years of age were overweight and 13% were obese. This translates to more than 1.9 billion patients with some type of eating disorder.

At the same time, this same entity warns us that more than 300 million people suffer from depression on the planet. Thanks to this figure, this psychological disorder becomes the leading cause of global disability and significantly decreases the quality of life of people who suffer from it.

Why have we presented these data? We’ve objectively exemplified how our lifestyle takes its toll on us. The gut-brain axis isn’t a myth and, therefore, sometimes our gastric health represents part of our physical and mental well-being. Anxiety, depression, bad habits, and many other factors can trigger certain digestive problems.

Common Gastrointestinal Diseases

Gastrointestinal diseases, according to the United States National Library of Medicine, are defined as a disorder of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This type of disease can affect a single portion or organ —such as the esophagus or the stomach, for example— or present symptoms associated with the entire system.

These diseases affect 20 million patients in the United States alone annually and are the leading cause of hospitalization in this region. Its symptoms are extensive, ranging from diarrhea to rectal blood, reflux, abdominal distension, and many other signs.

Of course, we’ve contextualized the significance of digestive diseases in general society and how annoying they can be at an individual level. Now, without further ado, we’ll dive into the 6 most common gastrointestinal diseases.

1. Dyspepsia

The Catalan Society of Digestology defines dyspepsia as any pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen. It affects up to 20-30% of the population at any given time and accounts for 2-5% of the reasons for medical consultation globally.

Dyspepsia isn’t a gastrointestinal disease in itself, but rather a clinical sign, as it alerts us that something’s wrong with the patient. In most cases, it’s an idiopathic event, that is, it’s not justified by a previous injury. Even so, bacterial infections or the consumption of certain drugs can cause it.

The aforementioned source warns us that, despite how common dyspepsia is, in some cases, it’s time to see a doctor quickly. When faced with the following signs, you shouldn’t hesitate to ask for help :

  • Unexplained persistent vomiting
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Vomiting with blood or the presence of black feces
  • Difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • Pain in the pit of the stomach that appears upon exertion
Abdominal pain.
Pain in the abdomen is one of the most frequent signs of gastrointestinal diseases.

2. Diarrheal diseases

The World Health Organization estimates that diarrheal diseases are the second leading cause of death in infants under five years of age. This source throws us a series of overwhelming data that we’ll show you below:

  • Diarrheal diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and other parasites kill 525,000 infants annually.
  • In low-income countries, they’re the second most common cause of death; second only to respiratory infections.
  • 1 in 10 people in the world has a foodborne disease (FTB) with symptoms of diarrhea at any given time.
  • These disorders cause the loss of more than 33 million years of healthy life.
  • Infants with prolonged diarrhea may have considerable growth and development retardation.

An episode of diarrhea, defined as having three or more liquid stools in 24 hours, can have devastating effects on children. In addition, it can also cause serious damage in adults.

3. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

According to the Spanish magazine El Farmaceutico, heartburn is defined as a burning, stinging, or fiery sensation that arises in the stomach and can spread to the throat and breastbone. This is a symptom also known by the general population as heartburn, which at least 40% of adults experience once a month.

When this symptom—characterized by the rise of stomach acids into the esophagus—recurs more than twice a week, it’s time to start suspecting gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It’s a fairly widespread pathology that, according to the American Gastroenterological Act, affects 10-20% of the Western population.

Some of the symptoms that characterize it are the following:

  • A burning sensation in the chest that usually occurs after eating and appears especially at night, when the individual is lying down
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty to swallow
  • Regurgitation of sour food or liquids
  • The feeling of a lump in the throat

4. Peptic ulcer

According to sources already cited, a peptic ulcer is defined as an open wound or sore in the lining of the stomach or intestine. It can be gastric or duodenal.

As indicated by certain studies, the number of new annual cases of this disease is 0.1-0.3% of the general population. Unfortunately, people infected with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori are six times more likely to develop a peptic ulcer, with up to a 20% risk of developing ulcers throughout their lives.

More than two-thirds of the world’s population are infected with this bacterium, but almost all of us are asymptomatic. In some specific cases, this microorganism can cause an ulcer in the patient, among other more serious conditions, such as cancer. Some of the most common signs of this disease are the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • A feeling of fullness and trouble drinking the usual amount of fluid
  • Vomiting
  • Black stools
  • Fatigue and weight loss

5. Diverticulosis and diverticulitis

We’re going to treat these as a single entity, as one is a consequence of the other. The appearance of small bags in the colon or large intestine —called diverticula— is known as diverticulosis and, according to the Aegastro portal, they affect up to 50% of the population over 50 years of age.

Most patients with diverticula don’t have symptoms, but when they become inflamed or infected, they give way to diverticulitis, a much more noticeable disease. It’s expressed with abdominal pain on the left side, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, fever, cramps, and chills. In these cases, treatment is usually necessary.

Stressful lifestyle and gastrointestinal diseases.
Lifestyle plays a fundamental role in the behavior of the digestive system and the development of gastrointestinal diseases.

6. Stomach cancer

Although it’s less common than its companion, colorectal cancer, gastric oncology also earns a place on the list. According to the Cá portal, more than 27,000 people are diagnosed annually in the United States alone.

Unfortunately, the five-year survival rate after the detection of this type of cancer is only 31%. This is because, in most cases, malignant tumors are identified after they’ve spread to other parts of the body.

The general symptoms of stomach cancer can be summarized as follows:

  • Little appetite
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Vague abdominal pain and discomfort, usually above the navel
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blood in the stool

Gastrointestinal diseases linked to lifestyle

As we’ve been able to observe in the above paragraphs, gastrointestinal diseases are multiple and can manifest in many ways, from unintentional weight loss to the sudden appearance of bloody stools. In the face of any of these clinical signs, it’s essential to see a specialist quickly.

Although we’ve covered some of the most common gastrointestinal diseases, we’ve left many others unaddressed, such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel disease, just to name a few.

Some of these diseases are of unknown or partly hereditary causes, but others can be avoided with a healthy lifestyle. Remember that your physical and emotional well-being are linked to one another and that with a good eating routine, continuous exercise, and leaving behind addictions, you reduce the risk of suffering from them.

Este texto se ofrece únicamente con propósitos informativos y no reemplaza la consulta con un profesional. Ante dudas, consulta a tu especialista.