Common Diseases of the Small Intestine

Woman holding model of human intestines in front of body

The small intestine plays an important role in the digestive system. It breaks down food and extracts nutrients from it, allowing the nutrients to be used by the body. Unfortunately, this important organ is susceptible to damage and disease. While there are numerous potential problems with the small intestine, some of the more common diseases that may affect the small intestine include:

  • Celiac Disease – This is a condition in which the patient’s immune system reacts negatively to gluten. When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, the immune system attacks the small intestine, causing pain and inflammation. Over time, these attacks may damage the small intestine to the point where vital nutrients cannot be absorbed into the bloodstream. There is no known cure for this condition, and the most effective form of treatment is to follow strict dietary restrictions.

  • Lactose Intolerance – Patients who are lactose intolerant lack the digestive enzymes needed to properly break down lactose, the sugar found in milk products. When these patients consume dairy products, they often experience bloating, gas, and/or diarrhea. Lactose intolerance typically does not damage the small intestine, but patients may still develop calcium or vitamin D deficiencies when they avoid dairy products. There is no known cure for lactose intolerance at this time, but patients may be able to avoid symptoms by making sensible dietary choices. There are medications that may help lactose intolerant patients’ bodies break down lactose if taken before consuming dairy products. If a patient completely avoids dairy products, it is important that he or she get adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, either from other foods or from supplements.

  • Crohn’s Disease – This is an inflammatory bowel disease, most often affecting the lowest part of the small intestine or the colon, though it can affect any part of the bowel. Crohn’s Disease disrupts normal bowel function through the inflammation of tissue in the bowel. This condition may lead to scar tissue, ulcers, or fistulas (abnormal passageway between the affected area and nearby tissue). There is no known cure, but symptoms may improve through over-the-counter or prescription medication.

The aforementioned conditions are just a few of the numerous conditions that may occur. If you experience frequent abdominal discomfort, gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation, see your doctor to determine the cause and best form of treatment.

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