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What is the Gastrointestinal Tract and What Problems Affect It?

What is the Gastrointestinal Tract and What Problems Affect It?

The gastrointestinal tract is an important part of our digestive system. As a whole, our digestive system allows us to process and convert food into the energy that powers us through our daily activities.

What is the gastrointestinal tract?

The gastrointestinal or GI tract consists of hollow organs involved in digestion. The organs that make up our GI tract include the following:

  • Mouth
  • Esophagus
  • Stomach
  • Small intestine
  • Large intestine
  • Anus

You can think of these organs as belonging to one long tube since they’re all connected to each other. Food that we eat passes through these organs, though other organs in our digestive system contribute to the digestion of food.

What Causes Gas and Bloating in the Stomach? – The Different Culprits

What is digestion?

Digestion is the process by which our body breaks down and converts food into energy and nutrition. Most people might think that digestion starts in the stomach, but digestion starts once we put food in our mouth.

As we eat, our teeth chew the food and break it down into smaller pieces. Our saliva also contains enzymes that help further break down food. It also lubricates the chewed food or bolus as it goes down our throat and to the esophagus.

Our esophagus plays an important role as it directs the flow of food into our stomach. It also has a muscle called a sphincter that usually stays closed, though it opens up whenever we swallow food.

In the stomach, stomach acids further break down the food that we just ingested. Aside from this chemical process, the stomach muscles also mechanically mix the food around and digest it even further.

After the stomach, the food goes to our small intestine. In this part of our digestive system, the pancreas, liver, and intestines send more digestive juices to break down the food even more. It is in the small intestine that most of the nutrients from food gets absorbed by the body.

Once the food has been digested in the small intestine, it goes next to the large intestine or the colon. This is where digested food (along with water from food) and other waste products remain until it becomes feces that we expel. This is also where the body forms and temporarily stores feces.

Common ailments of the GI tract

Aside from knowing what the gastrointestinal tract is, it’s also important to know what problems can affect it.

The organs of our gastrointestinal tract can be affected by various ailments. The effects of these ailments can vary from mild pain or discomfort to more serious problems that affect our digestion and overall health. Here are some common ailments of the GI tract:


GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disorder, is a condition that affects the esophagus and the stomach. In people with GERD, the esophageal sphincter, which is supposed to block stomach acids, becomes weak. As a result, stomach acid can go up and cause inflammation of the tissues in the esophagus.

Interesting Digestive System Facts You Should Know

Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a condition that affects the large intestine. A person with IBS can experience diarrhea, constipation, bloating, abdominal pain, and feeling gassy.


Diarrhea is a condition wherein a person has watery or runny stools. This can be caused by bacterial infection, food sensitivity, medication, and eating food that upsets the stomach.


In contrast with diarrhea, constipation is a condition wherein a person has very hard stools. This can make passing stool difficult, or even painful, and can be a cause for hemorrhoids.

The usual cause of constipation is a lack of water and fiber in the diet.


Hemorrhoids are a condition wherein the veins of the rectum or anus start to swell and become varicose veins. This can cause severe pain, bleeding, and may even require surgery if the hemorrhoid gets too large.

This can be prevented by eating a diet high in fiber, and not straining when passing stool.

Key Takeaways

The gastrointestinal tract is an important part of our digestive system. This is why we should do our best to take care of it and be aware of the ailments and diseases that can affect our GI tract.

Learn more about Digestive Health here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Your Digestive System & How it Works | NIDDK, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/digestive-system-how-it-works#:~:text=The%20GI%20tract%20is%20a,organs%20of%20the%20digestive%20system., Accessed December 17, 2020

Digestive System — An Overview – Health Encyclopedia – University of Rochester Medical Center, https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=85&contentid=P00380, Accessed December 17, 2020

Gastrointestinal Disorders: Types, Symptoms & Treatment, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/7040-gastrointestinal-disorders, Accessed December 17, 2020

Digestive system diseases | Des Moines University, https://www.dmu.edu/medterms/digestive-system/digestive-system-diseases/, Accessed December 17, 2020

Digestive Diseases | NIDDK, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases, Accessed December 17, 2020

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Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated Feb 17
Medically reviewed by Elfred Landas, M.D.