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The location of the stomach in the body.
The stomach is an important organ in the body. It plays a vital role in digestion of foods, releases various enzymes and also protects the lower intestine from harmful organisms. The stomach connects to the esophagus above and to the small intestine below. It is intricately related to the pancreas, spleen and liver. The stomach does vary in size but its J shape is constant. The stomach lies in the upper part of the abdomen just below the left rib cage.
Gastropathy is a general term used for stomach diseases.1 Examples including the name include portal hypertensive gastropathy and Ménétrier's disease, also known as "hyperplastic hypersecretory gastropathy". However, there are many other stomach diseases that don't include the word "gastropathy" such as gastric or peptic ulcer disease, gastroparesis, and dyspepsia.
Many stomach diseases are associated with infection. Historically, it was widely believed that the highly acidic environment of the stomach would keep the stomach immune from infection. However, a large number of studies have indicated that most cases of stomach ulcers, gastritis, and stomach cancer are caused by Helicobacter pylori infection. One of the ways it is able to survive in the stomach involves its urease enzymes which metabolize urea (which is normally secreted into the stomach) to ammonia and carbon dioxide which neutralises gastric acid and thus prevents its digestion. In recent years, it has been discovered that other Helicobacter bacteria are also capable of colonising the stomach and have been associated with gastritis.
Having too little or no gastric acid is known as hypochlorhydria or achlorhydria respectively and are conditions which can have negative health impacts. Having high levels of gastric acid is called hyperchlorhydria. Many people believe that hyperchlorhydria can cause stomach ulcers. However, recent research indicates that the gastric mucosa which secretes gastric acid is acid-resistant.
Gastritis and stomach cancer can be caused by Helicobacter pylori infection.
There are many types of chronic disorders which affect the stomach. However since the symptoms are localized to this organ, the typical symptoms of stomach problems include nausea, vomiting, bloating, cramps, diarrhea and pain.2
Disorders of the stomach are very common and induce a significant amount of morbidity and suffering in the population. Data from hospitals indicate that more than 25% of the population suffers from some type of chronic stomach disorder including abdominal pain and indigestion. These symptoms occur for long periods and cause prolonged suffering, time off work and a poor quality of life. Moreover visits to doctors, expense of investigations and treatment result in many days lost from work and a colossal cost to the financial system.3
In the stomach there is a slight balance between acid and the wall lining which is protected by mucus. When this mucus lining is disrupted for whatever reason, signs and symptoms of acidity result. This may result in upper abdominal pain, indigestion, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and heartburn. When the condition is allowed to progress, the pain may become continuous; blood may start to leak and be seen in the stools. If the bleeding is rapid and of adequate volume it may even result in vomiting of bright red blood (hematemesis). When the acidity is uncontrolled, it can even cause severe blood loss (anemia) or lead to perforation (hole) in the stomach which is a surgical emergency. In many individuals, the progressive bleeding from an ulcer mixes with the feces and presents as black stools. Presence of blood in stools is often the first sign that there is a problem in the stomach.4
Another very common long term problem which is now more appreciated is gastroparesis. Gastroparesis affects millions of individuals and is often never suspected and most patients have a delay in diagnosis. Basically in gastroparesis, the stomach motility disappears and food remains stagnant in the stomach. The most common cause of gastroparesis is diabetes but it can also occur from a blockage at the distal end of stomach, a cancer or a stroke. Symptoms of gastroparesis includes abdominal pain, fullness, bloating, nausea, vomiting after eating food, loss of appetite and feeling of fullness after eating small amounts of food.
During digestion, food is stored in the liquid present in the stomach. The food that is not digested travels to the large intestine and colon in liquid form. These organs begin to absorb the water turning the food into a more solid form. Different viruses or bacteria can increase the amount of liquid that is secreted and moves too quickly through the digestive tract for the water to be absorbed. Diarrhea comes in two types: acute diarrhea and chronic diarrhea. The acute diagnosis can last for a few days up to a week of time. Chronic diarrhea lasts for several days or longer periods of time lasting a few weeks. The difference in diagnosis will help determine the cause of the illness.
Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of the digestive tract, even the stomach, although it's a rare presentation. Its main feature is inflammatory ulcers that can affect the total thickness of the stomach wall and can bleed but rarely perforate. Symptoms include abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Diarrhea is also a symptom that can develop, so checking stools for the appearance of blood is important. It is possible for symptoms of Crohn's Disease to remain with a person for weeks or go away on their own. Reporting the symptoms to a doctor is recommended to prevent further complications.
Cancers of the stomach are rare and the incidence has been declining worldwide. Stomach cancers usually occur due to fluctuations in acidity level and may present with vague symptoms of abdominal fullness, weight loss and pain. The actual cause of stomach cancer is not known but has been linked to infection with Helicobacter pylori, pernicious anemia, Menetriere's disease, and nitrogenous preservatives in food.5
Smoking has been linked to a variety of disorders of the stomach. Tobacco is known to stimulate acid production and impairs production of the protective mucus. This leads to development of ulcers in the majority of smokers. Chronic stomach problems have also been linked to excess intake of alcohol. It has been shown that alcohol intake can cause stomach ulcer, gastritis and even stomach cancer. Thus, avoidance of smoking and excess alcohol consumption can help prevent the majority of chronic stomach disorders.
One of the most causes of chronic stomach problems is use of medications. Use of aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to treat various pain disorders can damage lining of the stomach and cause ulcers. Other medications like narcotics can interfere with stomach emptying and cause bloating, nausea, or vomiting.
The majority of chronic stomach problems are treated medically. However, there is evidence that a change in life style may help. Even though there is no specific food responsible for causing chronic stomach problems, experts recommend eating a healthy diet which consists of fruits and vegetables. Lean meat should be limited. Moreover people should keep a diary of foods that cause problems and avoid them.6
There are many tools for investigating stomach problems. The most common is endoscopy. This procedure is performed as an outpatient and utilizes a small flexible camera. The procedure does require intravenous sedation and takes about 30–45 minutes; the endoscope is inserted via the mouth and can visualize the entire swallowing tube, stomach and duodenum. The procedure also allows the physician to obtain biopsy samples. In many cases of bleeding, the surgeon can use the endoscope to treat the source of bleeding with laser, clips or other injectable drugs.
Other radiological studies frequently used to assess patients with chronic stomach problems include a barium swallow, where a dye is consumed and pictures of the esophagus and stomach are obtained every few minutes. Other tests include a 24 hour pH study, CT scans or MRI.
- "Gastropathy" at Dorland's Medical Dictionary
- Chronic Stomach Information Retrieved on 2010-01-20
- Stomach Health HealthLine. Retrieved on 2010-01-20
- What is a stomach ulcer Mama's Health. Retrieved on 2010-01-20
- Stomach Cancer MedicineNet. Retrieved on 2010-01-20
- Stomach Disorders MedLine Plus. Retrieved on 2010-01-20