The abdomen is the area of the body between the thorax and the pelvis and includes the belly, stomach, or midriff and all of the organs and structures within it. Because the abdomen contains organs belonging to the digestive tract, urinary system, and other systems, it is prone to a wide variety of illnesses and conditions. Many of the more serious conditions that affect the abdomen directly inhibit or disrupt numerous essential processes.
One of the more minor conditions of the abdomen, viral gastroenteritis causes watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and nausea. Many people refer to the condition as the stomach flu. Depending on the cause, viral gastroenteritis may appear a few days after the infection begins, and severe cases can last over a week. Generally, there is no treatment for viral gastroenteritis. Over-the-counter medications may soothe the symptoms, but the condition should resolve in a matter of days.
In some cases, the lining of the stomach becomes inflamed or swollen due to gastritis. The stomach lining or mucosa produces stomach acid and the pepsin enzyme. These aid in the process of digestion. Gastritis prevents the mucosa from creating enough stomach acid and pepsin, resulting in abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. In rare cases, gastritis may cause the stomach lining to erode slowly. Treatment is dependant on the underlying cause of the condition.
The word peptic refers to anything that pertains to digestion. Breaks or erosions in the stomach lining can cause small craters or ulcers. Often, this occurs in the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine that connects to the stomach. Peptic ulcers are usually the result of an infection of Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria common in areas with poor sanitation and overcrowding. Peptic ulcers can cause significant pain in the abdomen, back, and chest. Vomiting and heartburn may accompany the pain.
Gastric or stomach polyps are masses of cells that collect on the lining within the stomach. Usually, they don’t cause any issues or symptoms and are quite rare. However, over time, the polyps may begin to enlarge, and an ulcer can develop on the surface. Sometimes, a polyp can block the duodenum. Symptoms can include pain and nausea, and blood may appear in the affected person’s stool.
When the stomach is functioning properly, muscles contractions help move food into the small intestine. Gastroparesis, which means stomach paralysis, is a digestive disorder where these movements are either abnormal or nonexistent. This can prevent proper digestion, which will then result in bloating, nausea, and heartburn. The most common symptom is feeling full after eating very little. Many infections can cause gastroparesis, as can conditions such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and scleroderma. Treatment may be intensive and involve therapies, medications, and special diets.
Health care professionals refer to indigestion or an upset stomach as dyspepsia. Non-ulcer dyspepsia is a condition that features many of the symptoms of ulcers, including dyspepsia, but without the presence of the ulcers themselves. Physicians suggest there may be several subtypes of this disorder, as some people experience symptoms more similar to a reflux disease or gastroparesis. Additionally, there is no known cause for non-ulcer dyspepsia. Treatments focus on resolving anxiety, stress, and emotional events. Medications may provide symptom relief.
The appendix is a small, finger-shaped pouch that extends from the colon or large intestine. Health care professionals believe the appendix doesn’t serve a purpose in modern humans. However, the little organ can experience inflammation due to appendicitis. Typically, appendicitis causes pain in the lower right abdomen, though the pain may begin around the navel, first. Without treatment, the appendix may rupture or create a pocket of infection. Both complications are life-threatening and require immediate surgical removal of the appendix.
The digestive system’s lining can form small, pouch-like growths or diverticula. These growths appear most often in the large intestine and are quite common, particularly in adults over the age of 40. Most diverticula are asymptomatic and don’t require treatment. However, if diverticulitis develops, the growths can become infected or inflamed. Diverticulitis can cause constant and severe pain, as well as fever, constipation, and vomiting. Minor diverticulitis is treatable with rest and antibiotics, while more severe cases may require surgery.
A subtype of inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease is a serious condition that causes inflammation in the digestive tract, leading to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, and malnutrition. Many people with Crohn’s disease experience additional issues because the inflammation begins to spread deeper into the bowel tissue. Some individuals develop major side effects such as inflammation of the eyes, skin, joints, and liver. There is no cure for Crohn’s disease, but medication can help manage the symptoms.
Over the last 50 years, stomach or gastric cancer has become significantly less common in developed nations, but people all over the world still develop the condition. Physicians don’t know what causes cancer, though they do know that there are several risk factors. Smoking, lack of vitamin C, and heavy alcohol intake increase the risk of developing cancer. Infections involving Helicobacter pylori, such as gastritis or peptic ulcers, also increase a person’s risk of stomach cancer. Some people with cancer experience no symptoms, while others have significant weight loss, nausea, gastrointestinal bleeding, and difficulty swallowing.
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