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Tummy Trouble (Digestive Disorders) FAQs

Reviewed by Jay W. Marks, MD

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Q:Bowel regularity means a bowel movement every day. True or False?

A:False. The frequency of bowel movements can vary from three a week to three a day. Most people will find that they have a consistent ("regular") pattern, for example, one bowel movement each day or one bowel movement every other day.

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Q:Food digests in your stomach. True or False?

A:False. The process of digestion begins in the stomach with the grinding of solid food into small pieces. Nevertheless, the actual digestion of food by intestinal and pancreatic enzymes that allows the food to be absorbed into the body takes place in the small intestine.

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Q:How long is your small intestine?

A:The small intestine is approximately 22 feet in length. It begins at the stomach and ends at the large intestine. The small intestine is made up of an initial section of no more than 1-2 feet, the duodenum, followed by the rest of the small intestine which is divided into an upper portion, the jejunum, and a lower portion, the ileum.

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Q:How many times per day does the average person pass gas?

A:On average, a healthy person passes gas 14 times a day. The frequency of passing gas varies from several times a day up to 20 times a day.

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Q:The stomach flu is caused by influenza "flu" viruses. True or False?

A:False. The term "stomach flu" is a commonly-used, but inaccurate term. By stomach flu, most people mean an episode of nausea and/or vomiting or diarrhea, the most common cause of which are gastrointestinal viruses. Influenza, from which the term "flu" is derived, is primarily a respiratory viral illness caused by the influenza viruses. Influenza may be accompanied by minor gastrointestinal symptoms.

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Q:The medical term "dyspepsia" is another word for?

A:Indigestion. Indigestion is a general term used to describe uncomfortable abdominal (and sometimes chest) symptoms that usually follow eating. It may mean different things to different people, for example, abdominal fullness (bloating), abdominal pain, or nausea.

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Q:The spleen is part of the human digestive system. True or False?

A:False. The spleen is not part of the human digestive system. The spleen is part of the hematological and immune systems. It has no role in digestion of food.

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Q:Emesis is the medical term for what?

A:Emesis is the medical term for vomiting. It may or may not be accompanied by nausea. Antiemetic drugs are drugs that are used to treat nausea and/or vomiting.

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Q:What is a common term for GERD?

A:Acid reflux. GERD stands for gastro-esophageal reflux disease, a condition in which the liquid contents of the stomach back up (reflux) into the esophagus. Acid reflux is another term for GERD because the contents of the stomach usually are acidic; however, it is possible to have reflux of stomach content that is not acidic, especially in patients receiving drugs that suppress acid secretion by the stomach.

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Q:What function does the appendix serve?

A:The appendix contains a large number of lymphocytes and other cells of the immune system. These cells are an important source of antibodies, especially in infants and very young children. Later in life, other organs take over the production of antibodies. For that reason, the appendix can be removed with minimal if any effects on health.

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Q:The digestive system is responsible for making use of food. True or False?

A:True. The digestive system is responsible for getting food into and out of the body. It is critical in processing food so that it can be absorbed from the intestine and into the body. Once food is within the body, however, it is used by organs other than the digestive system.

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Q:Probiotics are live bacteria that when ingested benefit a person's health. True or False?

A:True. The definition of a probiotic is an organism - usually a live bacterium - that offers a health benefit when ingested. Most probiotic bacteria have been obtained from the intestines of healthy people. They are considered a dietary supplement.

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Q:What is the name for the sugar found in milk?

A:Lactose. Lactose is the sugar in milk. Almost all infants are able to digest and absorb lactose into their bodies. As they get older, however, many children and even more adults lose the ability to digest and absorb lactose, a condition called lactose intolerance. The intolerance occurs because of genetic programming that shuts off production of the intestinal enzyme that breaks down lactose. The undigested and unabsorbed lactose can be used by intestinal bacteria, and as a result, give rise to abdominal pain, diarrhea, and gas.

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Q:Ulcerative colitis is most closely related to what disease?

A:Crohn's disease. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease both are considered inflammatory bowel diseases because they both produce inflammation of the bowel or intestines, although the nature of the inflammation is different in the two diseases.

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Q:Celiac disease is caused by a reaction to what substance?

A:Gluten. Celiac disease is caused by a reaction to gluten, proteins that are present in wheat, rye, and barley. (Although there is some gluten in oats, oats appear to infrequently cause problems, probably because the type of gluten in oats is different.) The reaction caused by the gluten results in damage to the intestinal cells that line the small intestine and can result in gastrointestinal symptoms and reduced absorption of nutrients from food (malabsorption).

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