The Digestive System

The digestive system consists of several different organs that are responsible for the break-down of food, which then gets converted into nutrients that our bodies require for cell repair, growth and energy. These organs include the liver, the pancreas, the gallbladder, and the gastrointestinal tract.

Below, Dr. Ali Ghahary, a Vancouver-based family doctor, talks about some of the common disorders that correlate with the digestive system.

Ali Ghahary - The Digestive SystemThe liver, for example, which is located on the right side of the stomach, is responsible for the body’s metabolic process, including the break-down of old and/or damaged blood cells, the production of proteins for blood clotting, the detoxification of chemicals, and other important functions. There are certain health conditions that are commonly associated with the liver, including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver failure.

The pancreas, which is responsible for secreting enzymes, breaking down food and producing insulin, also has certain disorders associated with it that should not be ignored – though some may be difficult to diagnose. Pancreatic cancer, for example, is often silent and without symptoms until it is in a much later stage. There is also a condition that is known as acute pancreatitis, which can come on suddenly and cause the pancreas to become inflamed. Symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and bloating, and can last for several days.

Gallstones are a common and painful condition associated with the gallbladder, which can occur if your gallbladder does not empty properly. While many people with gallstones will not notice any symptoms, others can. Symptoms that can occur when gallstones are present include sudden pain in the epigastric area (the upper belly), pain after eating meals, and pain when taking deep breaths. In order to treat gallstones or if you are having gallbladder problems, surgery may be a necessary treatment method, though it is not uncommon for physicians to take a watch-and-wait approach.

Lastly, the gastrointestinal tract. The most common disorder associated with the GI tract is GERD (gastrointestinal reflux disease), also commonly referred to as acid reflux. Gastrointestinal reflux disease occurs when the stomach’s acid content regurgitates or refluxes to the esophagus, which can lead to heartburn. More information on GERD can be found on Dr. Ali Ghahary’s blog.

Click here for even more information from Dr. Ali Ghahary on disorders of the digestive system.


Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) vs. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

stomach-1051854_960_720Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) are two common disorders of the digestive system. These disorders affect as many as 5 million Canadians, with approximately 120,000 individuals in Canada being diagnosed with IBS every year. In fact, Canada has one of the highest rates of IBS diagnoses in the world today. While the symptoms of IBS and IBD are very similar, it is important to understand that the two are not the same condition and they have contrasting treatment regimens.

Unlike IBD, IBS is considered to be the lesser evil of the two. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is the fact that while IBD is an indicator for other gastro-related illnesses and causes the intestines to become inflamed, IBS does not. IBS can, however, cause profuse discomfort and anguish, with symptoms such as persistent abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation – oftentimes alternating. These symptoms can range from being mild to severe, and they can disturb one’s self-image, ability to work, and overall quality of life. Individuals with IBS generally do not show any signs of any severe disease when examined, so a diagnosis is almost always dependent on the symptoms presented by the patient to their physician. Common complaints and symptoms of IBS that Dr. Ali Ghahary sees in patients include bloating, gassiness, nausea, and the inability to move the bowels despite urgency. IBS can be caused by certain medications, dietary changes, hormonal changes and stress. Treatment includes antidiarrheal medications, fiber supplements, and stress relief.

IBD, on the other hand, affects 1 in every 150 Canadians, and can be a direct cause of severe gastrointestinal diseases known as Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease – both of which are accompanied by inflammation of the bowel. Symptoms of IBD include weight loss, chronic diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating. In severe cases, low-grade fevers and bloody stools may also be present. These are red flags that should not be ignored. IBD is diagnosed with blood tests, stool tests, CT scans or endoscopes, and is commonly treated with several types of medications: Aminosalicylates (to help control inflammation), Antibiotics (to help those who may develop an infection known as C. Difficile), Corticosteroids (to treat sudden onset of IBD-related flare-ups), Immunomodulators (to quiet the immune system and reduce inflammation), and biologic therapies (to block proteins that may produce inflammation.)